Cross-Community Labour Councillor for Enniskillen Donal O’Cofaigh has written to the Chief Officer of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) to obtain a date when a full-time fire station will return to the county.

Enniskillen and Omagh Firefighters amalgamated at the start of April as part of the NIFRS’s planning and response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillor O’Cofaigh has asked Michael Graham, NIFRS Chief Officer, when the Enniskillen Fire Station would see the return of wholetime firefighters.

“At the commencement of the Covid-19 lockdown, the full-time team based in Enniskillen was moved to Omagh. From firefighters themselves I understood this to be a short-term measure related to contingency planning around the pandemic. We recognised that there was relatively less risk on being dependent on part-time firefighters when most on-call firefighters were already at home but nonetheless it has been an issue that I’ve been closely monitoring.

“Given that now many more workers are returning to their workplaces continued reliance on part-time, call out responders poses very significantly more risk. Fermanagh is the most rural county in Northern Ireland - the distances involved can be huge.

“Reliance on part-time call out results in extra seconds and even minutes of delay for these workers to get to the station - that can mean all the difference. Like anywhere else, Fermanagh needs a full-time fire station.

“There was no explanation or even notice offered to the public around the original decision but even less why and how long this measure needs to continue.

“Only a few months ago I had to raise a defence of our full time service in the Council - proposals to slash full-time cover were being brought forward at that time because of NI Executive cutbacks - we can’t want allow even deeper cuts to come through the backdoor with Covid-19 used as the excuse,” Councillor O’Cofaigh added.

When previously asked by The Impartial Reporter when normal services would resume at Enniskillen Fire Station following the Government’s easing of lockdown measures, the NIFRS spokeswoman responded: “We put in place a wide range of measures to keep our employees and the community safe and to help protect and maintain the core functionality of our emergency response model.

“Part of these measures included amalgamating some Fire Stations in line with the risk profile in the local community.”

“Enniskillen and Omagh Firefighters amalgamated on April 6 and are based at Omagh Fire Station. With the support of Enniskillen and Omagh On-Call Firefighters they continue to respond to a range of emergencies in the area; and the current arrangements remain under review,” the spokeswoman told this newspaper.