The Fire Brigades Union has warned that the fire service remains understaffed and requires significant investment as the UK Met Office issued an amber warning for extreme heat covering four days from Thursday to Sunday for parts of England and Wales as a new heatwave looms.
The last heatwave, in July (as blazes broke out in the 40C plus heatwave) saw firefighters fighting wildfires across the country, including in Wennington, East London, where two rows of terraced houses were destroyed.
15 fire and rescue services declared major incidents, highlighting the scale of the challenges firefighters and control have faced. Each of these services has had firefighter numbers slashed. Countrywide, there have been 11,500 firefighter jobs have been slashed since 2010.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was the busiest day for the London Fire Brigade since the Second World War – it received more than 2,600 calls on one day, seven times the usual number. Khan told Sky News that a total of 41 properties had been destroyed in fires across the capital.
Cuts have stretched the fire service’s ability to respond. Firefighters are working in extreme heat and conditions for excessive periods of time. Employers have had to ask people to give up leave to assist because of staff shortages. There were several injuries to FBU members in July, including hospitalisations. As Britain is set to have another heatwave with temperatures expected to hit 33C in London, the FBU again raised shortage fears as wildfires are on the horizon again.
Andy Dark, Fire Brigades Union Assistant General Secretary, said:
“Just over a fortnight ago firefighters had to deal with many serious wildfires across much of the country. Several firefighters were injured and many people lost their homes.
Heatwaves have been on the government’s National Risk Register since its first iteration in 2008. Wildfire as a national risk was added to the register in 2013. Instead of improving fire and rescue services we’ve had 11,500 firefighters cut since 2010. Understaffing has been so bad that throughout the last period of wildfires nearly all fire and rescue services in the most severely affected areas had to call up off-duty firefighters and ask them to perform extra shifts.
If we are to properly protect life and property from wildfires the fire service urgently needs huge investment.”