Northern Ireland’s fire service could struggle to cope with a repeat of the Primark fire due to a massive reduction in numbers, a union warned.
The Fire Brigades Union said the ranks had dropped by 82 this year and claimed “scathing” cuts put the future response to major incidents under threat.
More than 300 firefighters battled the blaze at Belfast’s Bank Buildings for four days just over a year ago.
Fire chiefs said “tried and tested” response plans played a significant part in resolving the incident.
Senior Northern Ireland FBU trade unionist Jim Quinn said: “Why is it that Northern Ireland is seeing bigger reductions in firefighter numbers than the rest of the UK?
“It’s a disgrace.”
The union said the total available had reduced by a 10th since 2010 due to lack of recruitment.
Mr Quinn added: “These numbers lay it out clear – Northern Ireland has already sustained massive reductions to firefighter numbers.
“It beggars belief that huge cuts could be on the horizon.”
The Primark fire devastated one of Belfast’s landmark buildings and damaged city centre trade for months.
Fire chiefs have said their workers put their lives on the line to prevent injury or loss of life.
Mr Quinn said: “Wildfires in the Mournes this year brought the very real threat from climate change to the fore, while last year’s Primark fire demonstrated the vital need to mobilise quickly for a large-scale fire.
“With firefighter numbers dwindling, our ability to properly respond to these incidents is under threat.”
The FBU is campaigning against £3.26 million in “cuts” in Northern Ireland, following years of budget reductions from £81.6 million in 2011/12 to £74.1 million in 2019/20, the FBU said.
It said fire cover in provincial towns has been slashed while operational capabilities in Belfast could be significantly downgraded.
The union added: “Plans to plug crewing gaps with fire safety officers are impacting on vital fire safety inspections.”
The service responded to 2% more incidents this year, including non-fire incidents.
Firefighters rescued nearly 1,700 people last year, 12% more than the previous year.