COUNCILLORS have vowed to opposed plans to remove one of Castlederg’s fire engines and have called on the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) to increase recruitment for the understaffed station.
Sinn Féin councillor Ruairí McHugh raised the motion at Thursday’s meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council.
He explained, “There is a real threat that one of the two fire engines is going to be removed and that will put lives at risk. The local Fire Brigade Union representative in Castlederg briefed us on the current situation and the real concerns local fire-fighters have around future cover for the area.”
Highlighting the rurality of the area covered by the Derg station Cllr McHugh explained it extends to 130sq miles.
He said the Fire Services’ Strategic Targeted Areas at Risk Project ranked 898 areas in order with the intention of driving down risk.
Out of the 898 areas looked at, Castlederg had seven in the top 23, with Glenderg which takes in part of Castlederg town as far up as the rural end of Aghyaran ranked number three.
Cllr McHugh explained a station with two engines needs at least 20 officers to operate safely. He said NIFRS held a recruitment drive in 2018 and out of this two officers were employed, eight successful applicants were left on a waiting list.
“Since June of this year there are only 14 officers – one is in ill health and unlikely to return, leaving 13 on-call officers in the Derg station,” Cllr McHugh explained. “Three of these are due to retire over the next three years. In September 2019 there was a further recruitment drive across 41 fire stations two of which are also under review and in similar circumstance to Castlederg with two engines.
“One has 17 officers but it is recruiting more. So why is Castlederg being denied recruiting staff despite having only 13 officers available? The conclusion has to be it is being starved of staff because the intention is to remove the second appliance and this cannot happen.”
He urged councillors to back his motion calling for support and opposing any plans to remove a fire engine from Castlederg Station. Furthermore he called on NIFRS to utilise the reserve stand-by list and bring staffing level up to at least 20 officers.
The DUP’s Keith Kerrigan was among councillors who supported the call saying, “There are a lot of gorse fires in this area and the officers do tremendous work. They are desperately underfunded and I welcome this motion.”
The SDLP’s Cara Hunter added, “This is a case of postcode discrimination. Castlederg people deserves the same resources as everyone else.”
The UUP’s Andy McKane said the matter is of the utmost concern to the Derg and it is a very rural area.
Agreeing Michaela Boyle said removing an appliance would have devastating consequences in both the north and south jurisdictions.
And her party colleague Dan Kelly said it would also have a knock-on effect on Newtownstewart and the upland areas of the Sperrin where there are a lot of hill fires.
The motion was supported unanimously.