Budget restrictions and a dependence on overtime led to a reduction in the number of full-time firefighters at Enniskillen Fire Station, according to Assistant Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Alan Walmsley.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Mr. Walmsley explained that from August 12 last year the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service introduced an interim service delivery model.

“We had to look at our complete regional footprint when it comes to our service model and because of budget restrictions and pressures around the number of firefighters we had we looked at it on a risk-based approach and we reduced it slightly,” he said.

He explained that the interim service delivery model saw changes to six stations in Northern Ireland, including Enniskillen and Omagh. He also claimed that a pilot scheme, set to begin in Enniskillen in February of this year, will lead to the fire service “getting more” from its full-time firefighters in the area as they do more preventative work in the community.

In August last year the number of full-time firefighters in Enniskillen was reduced from seven to five with the minimum number of full-time firefighters in the station during working hours reduced from five to three.

This change meant that full-time firefighters had to wait for part-time firefighters to attend the station before a call could be responded to, as five firefighters are needed to safely respond.

Mr. Walmsley admitted that this change had seen an increase in response times saying that the NIFRS “never tried to hide away from that”. According to the assistant chief before the changes the average mobilisation time during full time hours was between 60 and 70 seconds and that this has risen to four minute and 46 seconds.

However, he was quick to point out that the majority of calls to the fire station come outside of full-time hours, which are 8am to 6pm.

According to Mr. Walmsley from August 12, 2019 to January 12, 2020 there had been 57 calls during full-time hours while there had been 121 calls outside of these times. 11 of the 57 calls received were a potential life risk with 20 of the 121 calls a potential life risk. Assistant Chief Walmsley explained that a call was categorised as a potential life risk if it was a house fire or a road traffic accident: “We have the whole-time resource Monday to Friday in Enniskillen for fifty hours a week. Outside of those 50 hours is the busier time.

“Our response then is six minutes and 48 seconds… the on-call firefighters do a tremendous job. We have a very good mobilisation time for on call. They are doing twice as many calls as the whole time people sitting in the station.”

Mr. Walmsley went on to talk about a pilot scheme that is running in Downpatrick for the past six months: “What we have done is put three fire fighters into an area in Downpatrick but they are not just working out of one station, they are working across five on call stations and what they are doing is going out every day and working on risk reduction in isolated communities.

“These are people who live in remote areas and whose life we will not save by responding but who’s life we can save if we get in through their door and talk to them.”

This pilot scheme is to be replicated in Enniskillen in February with six full time firefighters employed with a minimum of four working at any one time.

“I want to get those full-time firefighters out into the rural communities, they will still be responding when it is required, but I want to get them out across the wider area, and not just five minutes from the station… I want to maximise things. I can give you six firefighters in the station waiting for two calls a week or I can get those six firefighters out in the community.”

Assistant Chief Walmsley also took the opportunity to add that any permanent changes to the service will be subject to a “full public consultation”.