Firefighters have attended nearly 500 more incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic than they did during the same period in 2019.
Statistics released by NIFRS today show that firefighters responded to 6,294 incidents in March, April and May 2020, compared to 5,837 incidents in the same period in 2019.
At one point during lockdown firefighters were responding to a 50% increase in accidental house fires, while there has also been a 76% increase in wildfires across Northern Ireland during March, April and May when compared to 2019.
The rise in the total number of incidents that firefighters attended comes despite a 60% drop in the number of road traffic collisions during the same time.
NIFRS has managed to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on its front line services and deal with any additional pressure through diligent pre-planning and the introduction of a number of key measures at the beginning of the pandemic.
These early interventions helped minimise the impact of Covid-19 on the Fire & Rescue Service’s ability to respond to emergencies, whilst continuing to protect their employees and the community.
Chief Fire & Rescue Officer, Michael Graham, said: “Like every organisation, we were faced with considerable challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while also managing a spike in the number of incidents we had to respond to.
“It is only due to careful planning and most importantly, the outstanding effort of all of our people that we have been able meet the demands for our service during this critical time.
“We have dealt with over 6,000 incidents, a considerable rise on 2019. This included major fires at Bombardier and Crumlin Road Court House.
“We also dealt with a 76% increase in the number of wildfire incidents we attended, with firefighters attending 1,160 wildfires right across Northern Ireland, working in intense and difficult conditions for long periods of time.”
He added: “We’ve seen a difference in the types of incidents we’re attending, with a decrease in road traffic collisions because people are travelling less. However in March 2020 we saw a serious rise in the number of accidental dwelling fires as people spent more time at home in lockdown, with firefighters attending 231 accidental house fires in March, April and May, with one person tragically losing their life.
“Every single one of these incidents is something we are trying to avoid but I am pleased to say that the number of house fires we’re attending has been falling.
“During the pandemic we’ve been working really hard with our partners, including the Department for Communities to provide fire safety advice to people who need our help the most and I believe the decrease in the number of accidental house fires in the last few weeks reflect the positive outcome of that work.”
At the beginning of the pandemic NIFRS had prepared a plan in anticipation of high numbers of COVID-19 related absences amongst its work force.
By implementing specific measures early on, NIFRS has managed to so far avoid the very worst case scenario and the associated impact on the service.
The organisation, however, continues to operate with extreme caution implementing strict preventative and protective measures to protect its people and the public.”
Mr Graham added: “A good Fire & Rescue Service must always be flexible and move to meet the demands we are facing and I am extremely proud of the way in which all our people have so far responded to the greatest challenge of their personal and professional lives.
“We are very appreciative of the support from our NIFRS Board, the Minister for Health and his Department and officials, as well as our representative bodies, and I thank them all for their oversight, collaborative working and ongoing commitment to our work during such a critical time.
“Despite the challenges, we have seen a lot of really good innovations across the organisation that have helped us navigate our way through this pandemic and our service will continue to develop and change in response to the needs of the community.
“As we move into the recovery phase and the ‘new normal’, we are acutely aware that we need to remain cautious.
“We’re continuing to protect our people through proactive measures to maintain social distancing where we can, providing all necessary PPE and allowing people to work from home where it’s possible, among other measures.
“The public have an absolutely vital role to play in supporting their firefighters. They must continue to exercise extreme caution when it comes to fire safety at home and in the countryside and as businesses open up again, over the coming days, we would ask everyone to think about fire safety in the workplace at this difficult time.
“These have been a tough few months and there are considerable challenges ahead, but with the support of the public our firefighters will continue to be there when our community needs us most.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Our fire and rescue service have a long and proud tradition of reacting and working swiftly, effectively and above all selflessly in times of crises.
“There has never been a greater need to call on that tradition. I know that NIFRS are responding accordingly in the spirit of wider collaboration with the health family and I wish to place on record my thanks for your support.”
The Minister added: “Like all our frontline services, Covid-19 has presented innumerable challenges over the past number of months but despite this, the service responded to almost 500 additional incidents over the period and for that I’m very grateful.
“I wish to acknowledge and express my appreciation for the on-going efforts of all Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service personnel at this time.”