As the significance of the fire department in mitigating the worst consequences of the climate catastrophe becomes obvious, so does the magnitude of recent service cuts.
According to a Guardian study of publicly available data, total firefighter staffing across 46 English fire authority has plummeted 20.4% since 2010, with 35,279 in 2021 compared to 44,307 in 2010.
Other official data suggests budget decreases as well as a decrease in the number of manned stations across the country.
With the second heatwave of the summer threatening wildfires throughout the country, the risk of underfunding the fire service in the face of climate breakdown has never clearer.
During the last heatwave in July, firemen were summoned to many fires, including one in Wennington, east London, that burned two rows of terrace houses.
The finding is concerning in light of predictions that heatwaves and drier summers would become more regular as the earth warms.
Individual authorities have seen headcounts decline by more than a third since 2010. West Yorkshire, Northumberland, and Staffordshire have all seen headcounts fall by more than a third since 2010.
The number of manned fire stations in England has decreased from 1,432 in 2009/2010 to 1,393 in 2019/2020, according to data gathered by the Local Government Association (LGA).
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) found that local government funding for fire and rescue services in England was slashed by £139.7 million, or 14%, between 2016/17 and 2021/22.
Government funding for certain fire and rescue services has been reduced by more than 40%, with individual brigades losing up to £22 million.
According to the FBU’s findings, four have seen their funding slashed by more than a third between 2016/17 and 2021/22. West Sussex has lost £4.3m (43.9%), Warwickshire has lost £2.9m (40.8%), Oxfordshire has lost £3.2m (38.2%), and Surrey has lost £6.1m (34.3%).
The London Fire Brigade suffered the greatest cash decrease, losing £22.1 million, or 9.5% of its income.
“Just over a week ago, firefighters had to cope with several significant wildfires over much of the nation,” said Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary. Several firemen were hurt, and many residents were displaced.
“Since its inception in 2008, heatwaves have been listed on the government’s National Risk Register.” In 2013, wildfire was added to the registry as a national danger.”
“Understaffing has been so terrible that practically all fire and rescue agencies in the most badly impacted areas had to call up off-duty firemen and ask them to complete extra shifts throughout the latest period of wildfires,” he said.
“If we are to effectively safeguard life and property from wildfires, we urgently need massive investment in the fire service.”