21/02/2014 - Firefighters warn ConDem cuts endanger flood response

Firefighters say that the service’s biggest mobilisation since the Second World War is being undermined by shortages of equipment, staff and training.

Firefighters have mounted rescues and wide-scale evacuations as well as working in specialist water rescue teams and staffing specialist pumping equipment during the floods.

Severe budget restrictions caused by ConDem cuts in central funding across the fire service are creating problems such as equipment shortages and inadequate training.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said:  “a very troubling picture is emerging of understaffed operations, badly equipped firefighters and inadequate training severely hampering their work and creating greater risk for firefighters and the public.”

“Although there has been improvement in equipment after firefighters raised concerns during the 2007 floods, it seems our calls for better preparation and support have not yet been adequately addressed, with unprecedented cuts severely jeopardising our ability to cope with the floods effectively."

The union also highlighted safety concerns at the failure of some fire and rescue services to include flooding in their plans for local risks.

The union said that the practice of using firefighters from other fire and rescue services to support the local workforce had been severely tested as floods affected more and more areas, with 20 other brigades helping in Devon and Somerset and a further 16 sending crews to support Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service over the last week and many firefighters sent away for days on end with little notice.

Examples of equipment shortages reported by firefighters so far include (based on reports from across the UK fire and rescue service):
-  Large numbers of firefighters attending floods in protective equipment designed for dealing with fires, rather than water
- A shortage of specialist fire service vehicles capable of driving through high levels of water
- A lack of sufficient dry suits, meaning replacement crews had no immediate access to this equipment, restricting their ability to respond
- Pool quality dry suits and other equipment,
- A lack of replacements for equipment damaged during use
- Widespread problems relating to health and welfare, with firefighters being affected by suspected waterborne infections and sickness
- The deployment of ageing or deteriorating boats.

Problems with training were also reported, with firefighters saying that specialist water training (for example for using boats) had been significantly reduced because of budget restrictions.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of the Solidarity Union commented:

"The picture emerging is of a ConDem government ill-prepared to deal with the floods crisis and frontline services  so starved of money that they do not have the equipment and resources to do their job properly."