A new report by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has sounded the alarm, stating that the UK is alarmingly ill-equipped to combat wildfires, which are becoming increasingly common due to climate change. The report highlights that last year saw over 44,000 wildfires, marking a 72% surge from the previous year, as per government data released recently.
Union leaders assert that both the government and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have failed to formulate a comprehensive national strategy to address this growing threat.
The FBU’s report underscores the consequences of understaffing, with fire services grappling with recent wildfires forced to leave fire engines idle in stations. This shortage has also compelled them to draft off-duty personnel for additional shifts, pushing those on the frontlines to exhaustion. The report estimates that approximately 12,000 firefighter positions have been lost since 2010.
Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, emphasized the need for urgent climate action and substantial investment in the fire and rescue service. He called for more firefighters, enhanced training, improved equipment, and better planning and coordination.
The government’s own findings indicate a notable surge in outdoor fires last year, attributed to the hot and dry summer linked to climate change. In July 2022, the country witnessed 21,246 outdoor fires, nearly tripling the previous year’s figure. The report noted that these wildfires often occurred at the interface between urban and rural areas, posing significant challenges.
The FBU is advocating for a UK-wide wildfire strategy for fire and rescue services, establishing national standards and ending the current “postcode lottery” of wildfire response. The union also highlights the importance of better recruitment and retention of retained firefighters in rural regions and increased central government investment in training, crew numbers, and personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes the introduction of body-worn physiological monitors for firefighters and specialized respiratory protection.
Responding to these concerns, the Home Office emphasized that fire and rescue authorities are receiving £2.6 billion during 2023/24, and each authority decides how to allocate these funds based on their unique circumstances. It added that every authority is required to have a plan outlining how they intend to address foreseeable risks in their area, including wildfires.
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) expressed pride in the professional response of UK firefighters and 999 control staff in tackling wildfires and safeguarding local communities. It affirmed its commitment to ensuring that future funding decisions consider the current and future risks posed by climate change, wildfires, flooding, and other events.