Cuts to the fire service are leaving more and more communities at risk when flooding strikes, according to a recent report by the by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) in the UK. The FBU has called for an increase in spending, and an integration of flood risk into environmental management plans.
Increased Flood Risk
Recent years have shown an exponential increase in bad weather hitting the UK, including strong winds, torrential rain and snow, and extreme storm conditions. Each year, flooding in certain areas of the UK seems to get worse, causing millions of pounds worth of damage and taking lives.
The Met Office has accurate weather predictions, but there is only so much predicting a storm can do in helping vulnerable areas. A lot of the time, it’s down to the emergency services to provide badly hit communities with support.
The winter 2013-14 floods that hit the UK saw the largest deployment by the fire and rescue services since Second World War. Across the UK over the entire three months
from December 2013 to February 2014, firefighters responded to nearly seven thousand
6,500 Fewer Firefighters
When extreme weather hits the UK, firefighters are the first emergency service on the scene. The fire service is extremely busy during the winter months, and a recent report published by the Fire Brigade Union has spoken out over cuts. The previous coalition government cut funding to flood defence efforts, which impacted on fire services and Environment Agency staff, and because of this, more and more communities are at risk. Decreased spending in this area is having a knock on effect on the work force. The coalition government cut spending by 20%, meaning there are now 6,500 fewer firefighters that in 2007, and they are forced to rely heavily on volunteers to aid in flood relief management.
Approximately half a million homes around the UK are at risk of extreme flooding, meaning over a million people could end up being affected. This roughly translates to one in six homes in the UK being at risk – from torrential rain, being located near the sea, or from surface water flooding. These problems will only increase with time, and climate change takes more of a toll, and as we continue to build houses in areas that are at risk.
Implementing a Statutory Duty to Respond to Major Flooding
The FBU has called for an increase in spending, and an integration of flood risk into environmental management plans. The FBU has been fully engaged over the past decade with shaping flood policy.
Since the 2007 floods, the union has supported implementing a statutory duty on the fire and rescue service to respond to major flooding. Scotland and Northern Ireland already have a duty in place, but England and Wales do not at present. This is part of a campaign for more resources for the fire and rescue service as well as better planning, so that firefighters have the tools to respond professionally to every conceivable emergency.
The FBU are campaigning for this to be put in motion, so that services on the ground are more organised, can build temporary shelter, better flood defences, and evacuate more people during dangerous incidences, with better equipment and resources to do their job quickly and safely.
One Cumbrian firefighter, Rob Howell, told The Guardian: “In the seven years that I have been a firefighter, the number of full-time posts in my brigade has been reduced by a third. Some stations are losing fire engines and others are closing. Meanwhile, my job is becoming more diverse than ever: I deal with fires, floods, car accidents, hazardous materials, rescues from high and low places, co-response with the ambulance service and education programmes for vulnerable people.”
The combined aspects are frightening – cuts to the flood relief effort while floods are on the rise. Emergency services are finding themselves spread too thinly in times of greater need. How much more flooding do we need to have before the government take real steps to aid the Fire Brigade?
See the full report: Inundated: The lessons of recent flooding for the fire and rescue service