After the extraordinary professionalism of fire crews who worked around the clock for days on end to deal with massive floods in the South West, the FBU has written to politicians in the region and told them that the union now expects investment in the service and the threat of front-line cuts to be removed.
The call follows large scale flooding throughout the region which saw fire crews in one South West brigade answer 1,357 emergency calls and rescue 218 people in only five days. These astonishing figures from Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service, give an idea of the massive task undertaken by South West fire crews dealing with the flood struck region and the figures cover only one brigade, with the other five brigades in the region still to report.
The very serious weather situation led to plans being initiated by the fire service, which saw crews and equipment from other areas of the UK arrive in the region with additional equipment and firefighters. This co-ordination doubled the specialist capacity in the South West but was only possible because no other region, at that time, was affected to the same extent. Even with this extra assistance, the service was pushed to the limit with local crews working around the clock to deal with very high levels of emergency calls. Fire crews were on the ground constantly operating in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances to help people badly affected by severe flooding. Countless rescues of people trapped in flood water were made and crews also dealt with landslides and large scale pumping operations.
In the letter the union has told politicians that they expect recognition of the enormous demands placed on the capacity of the service and that any suggestion of cuts in the frontline are now removed.
Other points raised by the union in the hard hitting letter include:
• Regions should be made more self sufficient to deal with large scale floods, as opposed to relying on other areas which may be hit later;
• Investment should be made in better protection for fire crews many of whom were forced to work in flood water wearing unsuitable kit which is actually designed to protect them from heat and burns;
• Investment needs to be made in more boats, high volume pumps and crews to use them in order to ensure rapid and effective deployment;
• The government need to make flooding a statutory duty of the fire and rescue service to bring clarity and resources;
• There needs to be a clear undertaking that the extra costs incurred in dealing with these incidents are met centrally and are not taken out of already overstretched local budgets.
Finally the union demands that the government “wake up” to the life saving work of the fire and rescue service and that any threat of cuts to the front line of the service must be removed.
Tam McFarlane, South West FBU said: “The professionalism and commitment shown by members of the fire and rescue service during these devastating floods was there for all to see. Crews worked around the clock and in the most difficult of circumstances to serve the public and their communities. But it should be obvious to everyone that we are working to the limit and, in some cases, beyond.
“Large scale floods are becoming a regular feature of the work that we do and every region should have the necessary equipment and front line firefighting staff needed to deal with it effectively. This requires further investment and we have asked our MPs to raise these points with the Government as a matter of urgency.
“Everyone should now be able to see that cuts in the frontline fire service would lead to public safety being compromised, and any suggestion of these must now be removed. The government has recently been told by the Chief Fire Officers Association that proposed budget cuts will lead to over 4,050 firefighter posts being cut, 60 fire stations closed, 150 fire appliances cut and 40 fire stations downgraded across England. These are all lifesaving front-line posts and equipment. The current and ongoing situation in the South West should be a stark wake up call regarding the consequences of proposed cuts to the front line fire and rescue service and the government needs to pay heed.”
FBU Executive Council Member, South West Tam McFarlane 07813 170279