Fire engines

Increase in fire response times could be “difference between life and death”

Fire and rescue services are taking longer to reach fires, according to figures released today by the Home Office. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned the “alarming” increase is evidence of the impact of fire and rescue service cuts.

Response times have slowed gradually over a period of decades, with fires in non-derelict buildings, involving casualties, or requiring more than five fire engines, also known as primary fires, the worst affected.

  • Services take 11 seconds longer to reach a primary fire, compared with last year
  • Response times are at the slowest since current records began in 2009/10, taking 52 seconds longer on average
  • Firefighters take 2 minutes 42 seconds longer to respond to a primary fire, compared with 1994/5, under a previous recording system

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it’s obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.

“This is just part of the picture. Many services are not properly crewing fire engines, so there is no guarantee that there will be a safe number of firefighters on board when it arrives.

“The slowing of response times has been gradual, but the impact over a number of years is staggering. The government urgently needs to invest in our services and, crucially, we need national standards to set a required response time. Every second counts.”

Concerns were raised about the huge variation in response times in a major report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). The report noted “there are no nationally established response standards based on the risk of an incident or the likelihood of surviving it”, pointing to huge variations in responses to primary fires.

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