Firefighter deaths increasing – and they ought to be reducing, says union leader

The past five years have seen the worst figures for twenty years for all operational deaths among firefighters, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said today.

Yet “We have better fire engines, we have better equipment, including personal protective equipment. We have a better understanding of many of the risks we face. In theory at least we have better operational procedures. We should therefore have seen a decline in serious and fatal accidents and we should have been able to maintain that.”

Mr Wrack was speaking to firefighters lobbying Parliament on firefighter safety. On Monday the union released research showing that eight firefighters died on duty in 2007 alone, the worst year since 1985.  There has been a sharp increase in firefighter deaths in the last five years. 

In the five years since 2003, at least 22 firefighters have died while on duty, significantly more than in the previous five years.

And more firefighters are being killed while actually attending fires. From February 1996 until October 2002 there were no recorded fire deaths in the UK. However in the last five years (2003-2007), at least 13 firefighters have been killed at fires.

Mr Wrack argued that these official figures may be an underestimate. He said:

“Firstly, there are problems in relation to record keeping. The official records are a patchwork. The research looked back over thirty years. We can conclude that there is under-recording of the number of deaths. There has been little or no analysis of trends.” 

In addition, he said, “ neither heart attacks (even those when attending fires) nor Road Traffic Accidents (even those while in an appliance on the way to an incident) are classified as reportable .” Some firefighters have died from heart attacks at an incident or on their way back from an incident. 

He said that to fail to record deaths in accidents involving fire engines en route to fires could not be accepted. “To suggest that this also applies to firefighters, who may indeed be trained to ignore normal traffic regulations in certain circumstances, is to ignore a crucial area of workplace safety. We have seen at least 29 deaths from RTAs during the period we have looked at – one per year.”  

Download Mr Wrack’s full speech

Download the report compiled by the Labour Research Department - In the Line of Duty - Firefighter deaths in the UK since 1978

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