Firefighters have raised concern at the serious underfunding of the fire and rescue service as they respond to floods and other emergencies as a result of Storm Desmond. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) report that every fire and rescue service responding to the floods across northern England have seen unprecedented funding cuts over the past five years.
Fire and rescue services in Cumbria, Northumberland, Lancashire, Tyne and Wear and North Yorkshire have all faced devastating cuts that have resulted in an unprecedented loss of firefighter numbers. The FBU says this is obstructing the ability of the fire and rescue service to respond to incidents on the scale seen over the weekend and called on the Prime Minister to urgently reverse the latest cuts.
Between 2011 and 2015 the following cuts have been made:
- Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 87 firefighters (12.6%)
- Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 31 firefighters (8%)
- Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 241 firefighters (18.3%)
- Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction 171 firefighters (18.6%)
- North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 78 firefighters (10%)
Furthermore each service is considering even deeper cuts in coming months.
- Proposals are being considered to axe two more fire engines in Northumberland.
- The service in North Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear are looking to extend the use of Tactical Response Vehicles (TRV), smaller van like vehicles that carry fewer firefighters and less equipment, which would be all but useless in the current situation.
- Lazonby fire station in Cumbria, which has deployed firefighters for the past 36 hours, is earmarked for closure.
- Cuts to control services has resulted in non-emergency calls being ignored.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters are doing fantastic work tackling the impact of the storm and the floods and deserve the support of everyone. David Cameron has tweeted his sympathy for the thousands of people affected by the storm. Yet our fire and rescue service is being cut to pieces and the Prime Minister turns a blind eye to the results.
“Firefighters are responding to this emergency as they have been every time such storms and floods have hit the UK. Over the past few years firefighters have saved thousands of people from the dangers of flooding. They are also central to efforts to protect livestock, industry and other private property. These are all essential for trying to limit the damage to local communities and economies as well as keeping people safe.
“David Cameron, on the eve of the 2010 general election, spoke at Carlisle fire station and promised to protect frontline public services. The reality has been the complete opposite. The fire and rescue service is being cut to pieces. We urgently appeal to the prime minister to reverse the cuts to our emergency services.
“Firefighters are proud to serve our communities. They want to be out there saving lives and making people safer but cuts on this scale inevitably undermine what we are trying to do.”
A detailed briefing on job cuts in the UK fire and rescue service is available here.
Like all fire and rescue services across the UK, the Scottish service has also been hit by cuts. Between 2011 and 2015 the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has seen a reduction of 449 firefighters (6%). This has already led to fire engines being unavailable in various parts of Scotland, as the press has reported last week.
Wrack said: “The Scottish Government told us that shifting to the single fire and rescue service would protect front line services but since then we have seen further cuts and job losses. This is undermining our ability to respond to challenges on this scale. Firefighters are proud to serve our communities. They want to be out there saving lives and making life safer for people but cuts on this scale inevitably undermine what we are trying to do.”
Chris McGlone, FBU executive council member for Scotland, said: “The FBU has warned about the scale of cuts and job losses that have hit the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the inevitable impact on front line outcomes. The Scottish Government need to immediately protect firefighter numbers in Scotland. Further cuts will simply undermine our ability to deal with everyday emergencies as well as the large scale challenges we see when storms and floods hit.”