LIVES are being put at risk due to chronic funding cuts to the West Yorkshire Fire Service, say fire union chiefs.
Firefighter numbers are in crisis after years of underfunding is laid bare, through new figures released yesterday (4 September) by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Fire Brigade Union chiefs said strike action could not be ruled out, as West Yorkshire has lost a bigger portion of its firefighters than any other service in the country, with -35% change in staff numbers from 2010-2019.
The statistics show that between 2010 and 2019, 594 positions have been lost from the service due to funding cuts.
The West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service currently employs around 900 firefighters, but in 2010 had around 1,500.
While other forces in the last 12 months have seen a rise in firefighter posts, West Yorkshire is one of the few places in the UK that has once again recorded a decline (-1%), with only a handful of new recruits.
Dave Gillian, West Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union chair, said: “Lives are undoubtedly being put at risk. That is both lives of firefighters and lives of the public.
“We have less fire stations, less fire engines, less people - which is all having a devastating impact.”
He added that there were changes coming to watch manager shift patterns and other alterations including engines being staffed by four fighters instead of the usual five, and many fire stations now having only one operational engine, due to lack of staff. There has also been station mergers and closures.
He said: “Strike action is currently being discussed if there is no way forward, mainly due to pay and conditions. The public will recall strikes over pay in 2002-03 but we have no choice.
“We may as well be stacking supermarket shelves for the money we earn and hours worked in high risk conditions.”
Mr Gillian said that Health and Safety concerns were being raised as four firefighters on an engine could mean implications for staff safety.
He said: “When we have to enter a dangerous building, or a job with people to rescue it can become difficult or impossible to deal with, without the right support.”
Nationally, firefighter posts have increased by just 318 this year, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has learned.
This year’s 1% increase means that there are still nearly 11,500 fewer UK firefighters than in 2010. The FBU is urgently calling for the government to fund firefighter recruitment and reverse a decade of severe cuts to fire and rescue services.
Nationally, there has been a 19% cut in frontline firefighters since 2010, cutting firefighter numbers in every brigade in the UK. Overall spending on UK fire and rescue services has fallen by 38% since 2005.
In England, firefighter numbers have been cut by 21% since 2010, despite a 1% increase this year, with recruitment concentrated in London and the North West. Central government funding for English fire and rescue services has been cut by 30% in cash terms between 2013 and 2020.
Northern Ireland and Wales have seen firefighter numbers fall by 4% and 1% respectively, while Scotland has seen a slight increase of 3%.
The Government is being urged to reverse a "decade of cuts" to the fire service which union leaders warn have left it in crisis.
The FBU said the number of firefighters nationally has increased by 1%, or 318, this year, meaning there are still nearly 11,500 fewer than in 2010.
The union said there has been a 19% cut in frontline firefighters since the Conservatives took office, while incidents such as wildfires and flooding have increased.
Overall spending on UK fire and rescue services has fallen by 38% since 2005, said the FBU.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "This shameless Government is doing nothing to ease the pressure on overstretched and underpaid firefighters, all while making dubious claims of spending elsewhere.
"Fire and rescue services are in crisis after years of brutal cuts and this year's measly increase in posts is wholly insufficient to plug the gaps.
"We cannot allow firefighters' life-saving work to go unrecognised.
"The Chancellor must fund firefighter recruitment and end the years of real-term pay cuts for firefighters. Our communities need more firefighters and the Government needs to reflect the work they do in their paycheques.
"If this Government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to invest in our frontline defences and it is firefighters who are tackling wildfires and rescuing people stranded in flooding."
The news comes as central government continues to cut funding for English fire and rescue services, which will fall by £155m in 2019/2020, representing a 15% cut from 2016/17 to 2019/20.
This follows a 30% funding cut between 2010 and 2015. Firefighter numbers have fallen by a fifth since 2010, while the number of specialist fire safety officers has been cut by a quarter.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service were contacted for comment.