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'Cash-starved' firefighters warn they may not be able to cope with Bonfire Night calls

It comes amid concerns the country could see a rise in DIY firework displays as councils cut their community displays due to cost of living pressures

“Communities should know that their fire and rescue service is far weaker than it should be” says the Fire Brigades Union. Image: Ye Fung Tchen

Firefighters are warning their life-saving services could buckle under the demands of Bonfire Night, as cuts have left them “significantly under-resourced”.

Fire and rescue services in England are operating with almost a third less funding than they were eight years ago, new figures from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have revealed. 

“Bonfire night is a massive stress and strain on fire and rescue services and firefighters, and we are hugely concerned as to how a significantly under-resourced fire and rescue service will cope”, said Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary.

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Last year’s festivities saw London Fire Brigade bombarded with more 999 calls than they’d seen in five years. With some councils cutting their annual fireworks display due to cost of living pressures, there are concerns that firefighters could face a busier than usual bonfire weekend due to a rise in DIY displays.

While the life-saving services received £1.2billion in 2013-14, this has dropped to £882million. When taken into account alongside spiralling inflation, the service is trying to cope with a real-terms funding cut of 40 per cent. 

In Northern Ireland, funding is down by £1m since 2012, while Scotland has received just £3m more in funding since 2013, according to the union’s analysis. These are both significant real-terms cuts, it says. 

A government spokesperson said: “We understand that fire services are being impacted by inflation and are working with councils to understand how this will affect their budgets.

“We will be laying out plans for the Local Government Finance Settlement in due course and are taking these concerns on board.”

November 5 is the busiest night of the year for fire services as the nation celebrates Guy Fawkes Night with fireworks and bonfires.       

“Communities should know that their fire and rescue service is far weaker than it should be”, said Wrack.

The union is currently holding a consultative ballot to ask its members whether to accept or reject a 5 per cent pay rise. Union leaders, while noting this is an improvement on the previous 2 per cent from the government, are advising members to reject the offer given decades of cuts and inflation hitting 10 per cent. 

Wrack added: “Firefighters are facing a cash-starved service every night of the year: their own wages have been cut by £4,000 since 2009 and this year they received a measly 5 per cent pay offer.

“We need a properly funded fire service that includes decent resources and fair pay for firefighters, and that reflects the extraordinary job they do and their contribution over the pandemic.”

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