The Fire Brigades Union says its members are
increasingly angry about how they are being treated by the Government.
According to the union, the Government cuts are to blame for a rise in fire-related deaths in England last year. Official figures show that 303 people died in fires during 2015/16, up 15% on the previous year. Response times to all types of serious fires also rose, in some cases by as much as one minute and eight seconds.
The Fire Brigades Union said the figures reflect the real impact that cuts have had on the ability of firefighters to do their job in recent years.
Matt Wrack, the union’s general secretary, said:
“I think fire crews are increasingly angry about how they are being treated by this Government. Firefighters are praised when they rescue people, they deal with particularly difficult incidents, but all the time their job is being undermined by cuts.
There has been a record number of fire station closures, fire engines being cut and 10,000 firefighter jobs go. So that means people are left running the service on a shoestring.”
According to the Home Office, overall response times have increased gradually over the past 20 years. The response time to the most serious types of fires, including dwellings and road vehicle fires, show an average rise of 31 seconds in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11.
In 2015, 85-year-old Choi Yip jumped to his death from his burning flat in Camden after the London Fire Brigade took 13 minutes and 21 seconds to arrive – double the target time. The nearby Belsize fire station had recently closed and fire crews were also dealing with another large blaze in north London.
Karl Kosmo, who was Mr Yip’s friend and neighbour, believes the outcome could have been different. He said:
“I’m sure that if they had arrived in time, as they used to do before then, definitely Mr Yip would still be alive.”
An inquest ruled Mr Yip’s death was accidental.
London Fire Brigade said it is working hard to reduce the number of fire deaths.
The Government admitted the rise in deaths over the last year is “worrying” but said it was too early to tell whether or not it was a one-off fluctuation – adding that, long-term, the number of fire deaths is down. It also said the number of fire call-outs has dropped by 50% over the last 12 years, in part due to an increase public safety awareness.
Brandon Lewis MP is minister for policing and the fire service, and he insists the fire services were well-funded.
“Any loss of life or any tragedy is one too many. None of us want to see that happen, which is why we have to make sure we continue to have well-resourced teams. Actually our fire service is well resourced – for example, the fire service has actually increased its reserves by around £600m in the last few years.”
The Government is looking for further savings within fire services and is also looking at giving responsibility for fire and rescue services to police and crime commissioners, a move which is controversial with firefighters who fear control will be taken away from them.
From preparing for possible terror attacks, to educating the public about fire risks, the responsibilities for firefighters is growing. The worry is that this extra work – coupled with cuts – is costing lives.