Union calls for urgent action as university report examines deaths of 14 UK firefighters

UK firefighters are calling for urgent meetings with all stakeholders following the release of a report into UK firefighter fatalities commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and produced by the University of Stirling. “We want this report to focus minds on what can be done to improve public safety and firefighter safety,” says union general secretary Matt Wrack.

In the UK over the last ten years, 14 firefighters have died in the line of duty. The FBU recognises that its members work in a dangerous environment, but Matt Wrack insists, “Firefighters should expect to be able to go home to their families after their day’s work. They do not go to work to die.

“We assess the risks and take carefully planned action to rescue people, to deal with incidents and to make communities safe. Our members have the right to demand the best possible procedures, training, equipment and resources to enable us to do our job safely, effectively and professionally. That is not too much to ask.”

But he fears that radically reduced budgets for the service will lead to more tragic deaths like those at Bethnal Green (2); Harrow Court (2); Marlie Farm (2); Atherstone (4); Dalry Road (1); Shirley Towers (2); and Oldham St. (1).

“This report demonstrates a need for investment, not cuts to the fire and rescue service,” Matt Wrack says. “Budget cuts mean reductions in training, staffing, equipment and fire stations and continued operational duties of older firefighters. This will lead inevitably to further fatalities in the future.”

The Stirling University report

  • calls for direct and indirect role of central and senior local government and brigade managers in firefighter fatalities to be addressed
  • provides detailed recommendations to address structural and functional failures that threaten firefighter health and safety; and
  • recommends action to improve risk assessment, risk management and training.

The report, entitled ‘Firefighter Fatalities at fires in the UK 2004-2013: voices from the fireground’, was produced by Professor Andrew Watterson, of the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG) and funded by the Fire Brigades Union.

Professor Watterson, the author of the report, concludes that, “Good practice has sometimes been ignored.” The FBU is acutely aware that all risk cannot be removed from the service but Matt Wrack insists that they can be reduced by positive action from fire services, local and central government, and regulatory and inspection bodies.

“It is important that we begin to identify the role played by central government, senior local government and brigade managers,” he says. “These are the people ultimately responsible for the laws, budgets, staffing, systems, training, equipment and resources that our members rely on.”

Finally Matt Wrack says that this is not a report that can be filed, ignored or left for another day. “Fourteen firefighters have died at fires in the past decade. We owe it to them to review all our systems now.

“I call on government to treat this report with the same urgency that it would if 14 Members of Parliament weren’t going home to their loved ones.”

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