‘Dangerously overstretched’ fire service unable to respond to emergency calls during Storm Babet

  • Storm Babet exposes “urgent need” for investment in fire service, says union
  • Emergency calls go without response due to lack of resources, with 72 in one county alone
  • Firefighters’ union demands statutory duty on fire service to respond to floods in England, with funding to match

The Fire Brigades Union is calling for urgent investment to ensure the “dangerously overstretched” service is prepared for flooding in future, following the devastation of Storm Babet.

Storm Babet brought severe weather and heavy rainfall to areas across the UK, leading to life-threatening flooding across widespread areas of Scotland and England. Firefighters led critical rescue operations and safely evacuated homes.

In severely impacted areas of Nottinghamshire, the fire service did not have enough resources to respond to all emergency calls. The service was unable to respond to 72 incidents on 20 October, the height of the flooding, due to lack of resources. Since 2010, one in five firefighter jobs have been cut across the UK.

There is currently a legal duty for fire and rescue services to respond to major floods in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales – but not in England. The Fire Brigades Union is demanding that England get a statutory duty, with funding to match.

Next week, the union is set to unveil a ‘Firefighters’ Manifesto’ setting out a vision for the future of the service.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: 

“Firefighters and control staff have been working round the clock to respond to the extreme weather and flooding caused by Storm Babet.

“The climate crisis means that extreme weather events are on the rise, but the Westminster government still refuses to adequately fund the fire service for flood response.

“England is the only country in the UK without a clear statutory duty for fire and rescue services to plan and respond to floods.

“More than a decade of cuts has left the fire service dangerously overstretched on a daily basis. It is pushed beyond limits during emergencies like these.

“Storm Babet has exposed the urgent need to rebuild a properly funded and joined up service.”

First-hand accounts from firefighters involved in the response to Storm Babet: 

Vince Lane, a Watch Manager in Nottinghamshire said:  

“My team worked tirelessly to rescue people in extremely challenging circumstances. The flooding we’ve responded to has been some of the most severe I’ve seen in my career as a firefighter. During one 15 hour shift, we travelled around the whole county, to streets where the water was as high as the car roofs. We were out constantly rescuing families, elderly people, children, and pets in potentially life-threatening situations.

“These difficult rescues require highly trained, skilled firefighters, and I’m proud of every firefighter on my team. Our service was definitely stretched to the max. Everyone has worked relentlessly, stepping up because of their commitment to serving their community.”

Shaun McGowan, a Fire Brigades Union rep at Kingsway East station, Dundee said: 

“On the first night of the flooding, we woke up to the call at 1am and worked throughout the night until 11am the next morning. As the flooding spread, we were sent all across the region to respond to life and death incidents – missing persons, people trapped in cars, urgent evacuations.

“It was clear that resources were stretched very thin, and we were being called to incidents miles away over the two days because there wasn’t anything available closer.  It’s not hard to see how there could have been fatalities in our area.

“Our fire station has just had our second appliance cut, meaning we only have one. At the time of the floods, a big fire broke out in Dundee. When crews and fire engines are cut, we always ask what would happen if two life threatening incidents happen at once? We simply don’t have the resources to respond and have to wait for backup to travel from miles away. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”