Fighfighters in a flood

Firefighters respond to summer floods with over 3,000 rescues; FBU advocates a statutory duty to respond

A major rescue operation, described by the union as the “biggest in peacetime Britain”, saw hundreds of firefighters mobilised to save thousands stranded after their homes became flooded. South Wales red watch manager John Mann said:

“It was the worst flooding I’ve ever seen. There was sewage in the water and it was pretty horrendous for people living there.”

Many brigades struggled to cope with the demand, hampered by the lack of appropriate equipment and training. The FBU said members had been working to the point of collapse after being forced to deal with the floods for three days straight. Firefighters saved an impressive 3,500 flood victims, but shockingly only a minority were able to wear suitable protective equipment for entering water.

It wasn’t just frontline firefighters who were swamped. Emergency fire control staff had to field more than 7,000 calls on 25–26 June. In July the government launched a review to “learn lessons” about Britain’s emergency flood response and resources. FBU regional chair Ian Murray explained to the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, that kit designed to resist heat offered little water resistance.

If the floods had happened during the winter months, firefighters would have risked hypothermia. The union argued that the “lessons” of the floods should be better equipment, a proper national strategy and a recognition for the role firefighters play in flooding emergencies.

The floods also prompted the union to call for the implementation of a statutory duty for the fire and rescue service to respond to major flooding, to ensure that the service would in future be properly equipped and resourced to respond to flooding emergencies. In a report on flooding, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said:

“The public do not expect firefighters to wade through sewage to rescue them, only to fall ill because there were too few dry-suits, boats and facilities. Firefighters say to governments of all stripes – give us the resources so we can tackle floods professionally.”

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