The Fire Brigades Union says fire crews are ‘sickened’ by the silence of politicians over fire service cuts. Politicians have been queuing up to question police cuts, but none have yet challenged the same cuts to the fire service.
The union has been inundated by fire crews complaining about the lack of opposition to major fire service cuts in wake of widespread civil disturbances. The strongest and most recent comments have come from fire crews working in areas of recent unrest.
Fire crews have made similar comments over recent years in the aftermath of floods, extensive wildfires and in dealing with extreme winter weather. Like civil disturbances involving widespread arson, these incidents can tie up crews for protracted periods, sometimes months.
The last wave of cuts saw the loss of 1,000 frontline posts by April 2011. But ever increasing Government cuts will see that rise to at least 6,000 by 2014.
The cuts are being concentrated on full-time fire crews in largely urban areas, some of which have taken the brunt of recent unrest. The biggest cuts have happened and more threatened in Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the South West.
Recent civil unrest has shown how easily and quickly fire services can be stretched and struggle to cope. These disturbances, like others in the past, have seen widespread and major arson.
The FBU warns the fire service will also reach breaking point dealing with major incidents such as floods, wildfires and extreme winter weather. These incidents are more frequent and can last for weeks and even months.
Andy Dark, FBU Assistant General secretary said: “Fire crews are angry and sickened by the silence on widespread frontline fire service cuts. We are already stretched and struggling and that will only get worse.
“It’s not only civil unrest that highlights the problems. We’ve faced mass wildfires, terrible floods and freezing winter weather which stretched fire crews for weeks and even months.
“Claims that fire services can fall back on each other and pool resources don’t stand up when the cuts are widespread. The overall pool of frontline resources is being drained away and it will get worse year after year.
“Pre-election promises not to cut frontline services have proved worthless. You don’t get much more frontline than a 999 response and we’re being cut to pieces.
“The police are facing the same issues, but at least this is now being challenged and there is public debate. Why is their silence on frontline fire service cuts and how does the Government expect us to cope with far fewer frontline crews in the years ahead?
“We’re over-stretched and struggling now when we have to deal with a whole range of major incidents. We’ll be at breaking point when the cuts really bite over the next two years.”
Central Government grants to fire and rescue service budgets are being slashed by 25% in the next four years. The budget cuts are staged to get worse year on year – so called ‘back-loading’.
The job cuts – mostly losses through not replacing those who leave – cover wholetime, retained and firefighters in control. The heaviest losses are to wholetime firefighters.