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Fire chiefs concerned at latest fire statistics

30 October 2017

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has voiced its concern that the number of firefighters in England has fallen by 21 per cent since 2010/2011 and a serious reduction in fire safety audits.

New statistics released by the Home Office show a fall of over 9,000 firefighters compared with ten years ago, including a loss of more than 7,500 wholetime firefighters.

As well as the reduction in firefighter numbers, the release shows that the number of Home Fire Risk Checks (HFRC) are on a downward trend and have reduced by 24 per cent since 2010/11, despite there being a small increase between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

There has also been a reduction in the number of fire safety audits (36%) carried out by fire and rescue services, although there has been a welcome reduction in firefighter injuries which have fallen by 3 per cent in the last year.

The Home Office figures were released in two new publications: ‘Fire prevention and protection statistics: England, April 2016 to March 2017’, and ‘Fire and rescue workforce and pensions statistics: England, April 2016 to March 2017’.

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher said: “It is a stark reality to see the reduction in the number of firefighters since 2010, it is a trend we do not believe can continue without some serious consideration, especially at a time when the public need to have complete confidence in their emergency services.

“It is often said that the number of fires has fallen, this is true and very welcome, but Fire and Rescue Services should be resourcing to risk, not demand and the insurers tell us that financially large fire loses are increasing.

“It is also disappointing – but not surprising in light of the reduction in personnel - to see a reduction in the number of home safety fire checks being carried out, although some of this is due to better targeting and development of the types of check, plus a decline in the number of fire safety audits.

“While all fire services have integral prevention, protection and response strategies in their Integrated Risk Management Plans, we must have a resilient fire service which can respond quickly and efficiently, based on risk and response.”

“Fire and rescue services will continue to provide an excellent service, but we do need to ensure fire and rescue services are funded for risk and resilience, not just demand. I and NFCC colleagues will continue to work closely with the Home Office and other Governments in the UK to ensure these concerns are raised and action taken where possible.”

On a related matter, workforce reform, NFCC said that while it was encouraging to see that the proportion of female firefighters and those from ethnic minority groups had increased slightly over the last year, these trends owe more to fluctuations in small baseline populations, as well as large decreases of white and male firefighters.

Mr Wilsher added “The diversity data on new joiners shows that 12% of all new whole-time staff are female and 9% are from an ethnic minority. While this is very encouraging, there is still much more work to do to increase these numbers further. I am pleased to say that Fire Chiefs are committed nationally to improving diversity, and I was therefore thrilled by the decision at this week’s full council meeting that the NFCC will support the HeForShe movement.”.

NFCC believes that investment in retention and recruitment strategies would attract more applicants, help retain them for longer, and attract a more diverse workforce.

 The workforce figures show:

  • 40,180 staff (FTE) were employed by FRSs on 31 March 2017. A 5% decrease compared with the previous year and a 22% decrease since 2010/11;
  • 33,049 staff (FTE) were employed as firefighters on 31 March 2017. This was a 4% decrease compared with the previous year and a 21% decrease since 2010/11;
  • 5.2% of firefighters were women in England in 2017. This compares with 5.0%;
  • 3.9% of firefighters were from an ethnic minority group in England in 2017. This compares with 3.8% in the previous year; and
  • There were 2,523 firefighter injuries during 2016/17, 3% lower than in the previous year, continuing the downward trend of the last decade