Hundreds of firefighter jobs cut in Merseyside over decade - union says service being ‘decimated’

The Fire Brigades Union says the Government and chief fire officers have ‘decimated’ the service nationally.

There are hundreds fewer firefighters in Merseyside than a decade ago, figures show, as the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) accuses the Government of "complacency" over cuts to services in the face of climate change.

With early weather reports predicting further hot weather in August, the FBU warns that the fire and rescue service across England is unlikely to be able to cope with wildfires like those seen during the historic hot spell in July.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) said its crews had to tackle “multiple” blazes during the heatwave, when Liverpool experienced its hottest day on record at 36°C, and even had to send firefighters to other regions to help out.

Phil Garrigan, chief fire officer, told the LDRS: “Crews across Merseyside worked very effectively in the most arduous conditions and despite multiple outbreaks of fire across Merseyside, we were able to avoid some of the extensive wildfires we have seen elsewhere in the country.

“As lead authority for national resilience, our fire control assisted with the deployment of resources in other areas of the UK and we also sent crews and fire engines to assist Fire and Rescue Services in some of the worst affected parts of the country.”

Dramatic pictures showed firefighters putting out a blaze that started on dry grass in New Brighton last week. The flames, which spanned 100m x 50m, started at King’s Parade and required officers to beat out the fire.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service staffing cuts

The news comes as the latest available Home Office figures show the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is operating with almost 25% less staff than a decade ago.

There were the equivalent of 725 full-time firefighters at the MFRS as of the end of March last year – 626 wholetime and 98 on-call.

Though this was up from 698 a year before, it was far fewer than 952 in 2011 – a fall of 227 firefighters over a decade.

Using the latest fire service area population estimates for 2020, it means the rate of firefighters per capita in Merseyside has fallen from around 6.9 per 10,000 people to 5.1 over this period.

Cuts ‘decimating’ fire service

The FBU said the Government and chief fire officers have "decimated" the service nationally, with almost 10,000 fewer firefighters across England last year than a decade previously.

Riccardo la Torre, FBU national officer, said: "That is outrageous complacency in the face of rapidly rising temperatures. Fire and rescue services should plan and prepare for foreseeable risk, yet it is clear they are not doing that."

Thirty-nine percent of all incidents attended by Merseyside firefighters were for the purpose of dealing with an actual fire.

He said the wildfires caused by record temperatures in mid-July should have been a "wake-up call" for the Government, but there have been no major funding announcements.

And long-range weather forecasters WX Charts are predicting another heatwave in August, with temperatures across much of England estimated to reach 30°C.

Mr la Torre added: “Put simply, further heatwaves will result in more wildfires, and the fire and rescue service is unlikely to be able to cope. Firefighters face a climate emergency at work and a cost-of-living crisis at home."

Pay and recruitment issues

He said the recent 2% pay offer – which the FBU says equates to a real terms pay cut of around 7% over the last year – is evidence of the Government treating firefighters in a "disgusting manner".

Greenpeace said there has been an alarmingly consistent increase in wildfires in the UK over recent years, and without government action this will only worsen.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at the environmental campaign group, said: "For decades, successive UK governments have fanned the flames of climate change, and the wildfires that come with it, by failing to cut emissions and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels fast enough.

"For the next Prime Minister, this, alongside tackling the cost-of-living crisis, must be their number one priority."

The Home Office figures show that 2,431 men and women joined the national fire service in 2020-21 – down from 2,845 in the previous financial year.

In Merseyside, the number of joiners dropped from 118 to 96 over this time.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Government is committed to ensuring fire services have the resources they need to keep us safe, including from wildfires, and overall fire and rescue authorities will receive around £2.5 billion in 2022-23."