As a fire-fighter, I've seen first-hand the effect of seven years of government cuts on the fire service.
Since 2010, over 10,000 firefighters have been axed; dozens of fire stations have closed; fire engines have been scrapped; and emergency rescue equipment has been slashed. Fire service budgets have been reduced by 30 per cent across the UK, with a further 20 per cent of cuts expected by 2020.
In England, the average response to primary fires – the most serious that the fire service attends – has increased by 31 seconds since 2010/2011. Response times to dwelling fires which involve somebody who needs rescuing increased by 26 seconds since 2010/2011. Those are not the only increases: every type of incident that the fire service responds to now takes longer compared to 2010.
Firefighters are increasingly finding themselves over stretched and under resourced. I cannot emphasise enough how seconds count when firefighting. A few seconds can be the difference between saving a life or not.
The primary and spurious argument used by the Government for implementing these cuts is that the numbers of fires continue to decrease and therefore fewer fire fighters are needed.
It is true that the numbers of fires are down, but this is largely down to firefighters working with local communities to increase awareness and advise them on fire safety. Reduce firefighters, this work is carried out less, fires will then increase. It is obvious to everyone but those in charge.
In the short-term the reduction in the number of fires is irrelevant. The incidents we do get called to aren’t any smaller or develop any slower. How quickly we arrive at a fire and how many resources we have at our disposal can be the difference between a life and death.
That is why fire-fighters up and down the country will welcome the commitments made in the Labour Party manifesto. It promises to halt the cuts to the fire service. It recognises that response times have increased and that lives are being put at risk. Firefighters will welcome the pledge of 3,000 new firefighters to ease the strain on staffing levels and improve resilience. With response times increasing, you would expect the Conservative manifesto to address this. Their manifesto mentions nothing on these points.
Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire political life listening to firefighters and has put forward a manifesto that puts safety first and recognises the new challenges and threats that the country faces. The Labour Party have listened, but the Tories appear content to continue the downward spiral of cuts and attacks on your fire service putting us all at risk.
Andrew Scattergood is Chair of the Fire Brigades Union
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