Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

July 02, 2013 10:45 ET

Fire Services Stretched 'To Breaking Point' by Smethwick Fire and Government Cuts, Say Firefighters

Fire Brigades Union praises firefighters' 'fantastic work'

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwired - July 2, 2013) - The ability of the fire and rescue service to respond to the Smethwick fire was stretched 'to breaking point' by government cuts, firefighters have said.

Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, Matt Wrack, visited the site of the ongoing operation on Tuesday and spoke to firefighters about their experiences.

Wrack said: "Firefighters have done a fantastic job in fighting this massive fire and deserve nothing but praise.

"But the Smethwick fire stretched the service to absolute breaking point.

"Those involved in fighting the fire have made it clear that government cuts have hampered their ability to deal with major incidents, which may have massive consequences for public safety."

Firefighters dealing with the incident said that cuts to the service had caused:

- Delays to the arrival of specialist fire engines because of cuts in staff
- Some firefighters being required to spend excessive time (in at least one case 12 hours) in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions
- Fire engines being sent from Stafford and Malvern to compensate for West Midlands shortages
- Only one West Midlands engine left to cover the rest of the West Midlands (around 2.6 million) through large parts of the fire's first night

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service has recently experienced:

- A 26% (or £20 million) cut to its budget
- A 22% reduction in the number of fire fighters (from 1850 to 1450), which is expected to reduce to 1,250 over the next few years

Firefighters said that several of the fire engines which fought the fire will be lost to the cuts in a matter of weeks.

At least 13 firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze.

West Midlands firefighter and FBU official, Paul Cockburn, said: "The government must stop the cuts. Put simply, people's lives are at stake.

"Fire fighters are sick of being praised by politicians whilst seeing their service slashed to pieces.

"Any other significant incident in West Midlands on that evening would have been impossible to deal with because of shortage of firefighters and fire engines."


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