Friday, 4 April 2014

Firefighters and the floods: magnificent response but problems underlined

Charles Gate11:28am Apr 4
FBU and Flooding

New firefighters and the floods: magnificent response but problems underlined

by Paul Hampton, Fire Brigades’ Union

The recent floods saw the biggest fire and rescue service mobilisation since the Second World War, with firefighters involved in huge numbers of rescues, wide-scale evacuations and deployment of high volume pumps.
But Fire Brigades Union members also reported that serious budget restrictions caused by cuts in central funding had created problems such as equipment shortages and inadequate training.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters did a fantastic job in the floods, saving lives and reducing damage done to homes and businesses, and are always proud to serve their communities during difficult times.
“But 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.”
He added: “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 NOT not been adequately addressed, with unprecedented cuts severely jeopardising our ability to cope with the floods effectively.
“Firefighters are keen and proud to do this work but they have the right to expect the best levels of training, equipment and resources. That was promised after 2007 but has not been delivered and the situation is getting significantly worse due to the huge cuts the government has made to fire service budgets.”
The union said 20 brigades were sent into Devon and Somerset and a further 16 crews deployed to support fire-fighters in Berkshire.
The FBU investigation found:
• 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 water levels
• A lack of sufficient dry suits, meaning replacement crews had no immediate access to this equipment, restricting their ability to respond
• Poor 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 on using boats, had been significantly reduced because of budget restrictions.
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