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Firefighters “might not be able to fight all fires”

Written by on 5th October 2021

Firefighter numbers have reached a new low since the beginning of austerity in 2010. One in five firefighter roles which existed in 2010 no longer exist, according to figures released today, with a fall in numbers of 11,680 since then.

The figures have been released just prior to Priti Patel’s speech to Conservative conference. As Home Secretary Patel has responsibility for fire and rescue.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said:

“After years of huge government cuts and staffing falls there is a real threat that fire and rescue services may not be able to deal with every incident, and fight all fires: for example, we have heard senior service managers state that the public should lower their expectations that large wildfires can be tackled. The cuts are weakening the day-to-day work of the fire and rescue service in every single area; they are making people less safe. They also pose a threat to the ability to respond to large-scale incidents – particularly if more than one were to occur at the same time. 

“Households deserve to feel protected. We all want to be able to walk past fire stations and know that there are enough people in there to protect us. And firefighters will always do whatever they can to save lives. It’s time the government does the same.”

  • Since 2010 more than 8,000 wholetime firefighters have gone, out of the 11,680 total.
  • London alone now has 1,112 less firefighters than 2010, with falls of 615 in West Yorkshire, 631 in Greater Manchester, 551 in Devon and Somerset and 470 in the West Midlands. Other standout figures include a cut of 70 firefighters between 2020 and 2021 alone in Hampshire, and 49 in Devon and Somerset.
  • The overall figure compared to last year for the UK is a loss of 185 firefighters, or a 0.4% decrease – a further cut, and meaning numbers remain in the pit they have been cut to by years of brutal austerity.

The impression that the fire and rescue service has been short-staffed to breaking point is also evidenced by a range of figures, with response times across all types of fires in England increasing since 2010, and fire audit and home fire safety check numbers in England constantly falling across this period.

Additionally, new threats could mean that firefighters will become even more stretched. Climate change is thought to have increased both flood risk and the number of wildfires in the UK.

The figures come from a freedom of information request from the Fire Brigades Union.

For more information, or interviews (including with local spokesperson around the country), contact press@fbu.org.uk or 07825 635224

Fire and rescue service Changes from 2010 to 2021 Changes from 2010 to 21 (%) Changes from 2020 to 2021 Changes from 2020 to 2021 (%)
Scotland -1,018 -13% –            101 -1%
Mid and West Wales -85 -7% -38 -3%
North Wales -168 -19% -20 -3%
South Wales -211 -13%                 16 1%
Cleveland -213 -34% -16 -4%
Durham -51 -9%                   6 1%
Northumberland -147 -34% –              17 -6%
Tyne and Wear -309 -33% –              18 -3%
Humberside -322 -31% –              13 -2%
North Yorkshire -104 -13% –                 7 -1%
South Yorkshire -259 -28%                 33 5%
West Yorkshire -615 -36% –                 8 -1%
Cheshire -33 -4%                 23 3%
Cumbria -122 -17%                 34 6%
Greater Manchester -631 -32%                   4 0%
Lancashire -269 -20%                   5 0%
Merseyside -253 -21%                 66 7%
North West Fire Control 58  N/A                   5 9%
Derbyshire -34 -4%                 43 6%
Leicestershire -220 -28% –                 7 -1%
Lincolnshire -100 -13%                 33 5%
Northamptonshire -95 -17%                  – 0%
Nottinghamshire -292 -30%                   4 1%
Hereford and Worcester -75 -10%                 19 3%
Shropshire -50 -9%                   3 1%
Staffordshire -465 -50% -1 0%
Warwickshire -22 -5%                   9 2%
West Midlands -470 -24% –                 6 0%
Bedfordshire -41 -8% –                 4 -1%
Cambridgeshire -149 -21%                 22 4%
Essex -336 -24% –            114 -10%
Hertfordshire -110 -13% –                 9 -1%
Norfolk -67 -8%                 44 6%
Suffolk -178 -23%                   8 1%
London -1,112 -18%                 17 0%
Berkshire -109 -19% –              30 -6%
Buckinghamshire -268 -43%                   1 0%
East Sussex -112 -15% –              12 -2%
Hampshire -280 -17% –              70 -5%
Isle of Wight -61 -28% –              14 -8%
Kent -443 -27% –              23 -2%
Oxfordshire -61 -9%                 17 3%
Surrey -127 -17%                 16 3%
West Sussex -185 -22%                 24 4%
Avon -281 -29% –                 4 -1%
Cornwall -25 -4% –              37 -6%
Devon and Somerset -551 -27% –              49 -3%
Dorset and Wiltshire -287 -22% –              39 -4%
Gloucestershire