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Fire Service bosses guilty of “sabotage by inaction” claims FBU

23 August 2022

FIREFIGHTERS HAVE reacted angrily to a series of statements made by several chief fire officers which, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), have “clearly been written in order to downplay the impact of under-resourcing” on the response to recent wildfire incidents.

Firefighters are said to be “incensed” that chief fire officers and other Fire and Rescue Service leaders are “making excuses” for themselves and the Government over the “failure to prepare” for extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Some Fire and Rescue Services across the UK have released statements and comments declaring that the extreme weather in July and in the early part of this month was “unprecedented”. The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has done the same (more of which anon).

FBU assistant general secretary Andy Dark said: “Fire and Rescue Services have been strained to breaking point tackling wildfires because of under-resourcing. Fire and Rescue Services and the Government were warned that there had to be proper plans and resources in place and yet nothing was done. We have been raising the alarm on this issue for years and years.”

Dark continued: “Fire bosses need to stop the pretence. Instead of fighting for proper investment for the Fire and Rescue Service, they’ve stood by while the Government has slashed funding and presided over cuts to front line resources which they have recommended as being acceptable in accordance with their “professional judgement”. This is why Fire and Rescue Services are struggling.”

Further, Dark observed “We have fire engines sat in fire stations because there are not enough people to staff them. On one day, while wildfires raged, there were 40 such fire engines gathering dust at fire stations right across London. The overall number of operational firefighters in the UK has decreased by 11,500 since 2010. That’s a drop of over 20%.”

Dark added: “Wildfires have been on the Government’s National Risk Register since 2013. Fire bosses knew that this was a high risk facing the UK and chose to look the other way. They should all be totally ashamed of themselves for their sabotage by inaction.”

Statement from the NFCC

The NFCC reported that no fewer than 15 Fire and Rescue Services declared major incidents on Tuesday 19 July alone. Major incidents are usually larger and more complex incidents that could serve to endanger lives, threaten larger areas and may require additional levels of co-ordination across a range of Emergency Services as well as other agencies.

The London Fire Brigade reported that Tuesday 19 July was likely to have been its busiest day since the Second World War, with the Brigade in attendance at upwards of 1,110 incidents. At one stage, the Brigade was attending 15 large-scale incidents simultaneously, some of them requiring between ten and 30 fire appliances to be at the scene.

The NFCC’s National Resilience capability can be called upon to deploy Fire and Rescue Service assets anywhere across the UK, along with specialist advisors to assist at these large and complex and incidents.  

This year alone, England and Wales has been privy to 442 wildfire episodes. For comparison purposes, there were 247 in 2021. Such incidents are exerting huge pressure on Fire and Rescue Services. Just one spark could cause untold damage, while at the same time posing a threat to life at a juncture when resources are already stretched to the limit.

NFCC chair Mark Hardingham commented: “We have seen Fire and Rescue Services receive an exceptionally high number of calls. Fire Control Rooms across the country have given superb and professional support to co-ordinate the demand with the ultimate aim of keeping people and property safe. However, the number of large fires and major incidents declared is concerning. We are working with all Fire and Rescue Services and relevant Government departments to ensure additional support can be given where and when it’s needed.”

Government response

Home Secretary Priti Patel explained: “I’ve been updated on the national fire situation. With dangerous fires having burned across the country, we continue to urge members of the public to follow all safety advice from their local Fire and Rescue Service and to stay safe.”

The Home Secretary concluded: “I would like to pay tribute to the professionalism and skill of our Fire and Rescue Services. Firefighters have been working in difficult conditions to protect lives and communities.”

Fire and Rescue Services including those in Buckinghamshire, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Humberside, Cheshire, Leicestershire, Bedford, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire have all declared major incidents in the last few weeks.