LONDON, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - July 6, 2012) - The Fire Brigades Union is warning that this weekend's floods threaten to expose the impact of frontline cuts and the lack of a legal duty on fire services to respond to flooding. Nearly three thousand frontline firefighter posts have been axed since the 2007 floods which stretched the fire service to breaking point.
And while fire services in Northern Ireland and Scotland have a legal duty to respond to flooding, no such duty applies in England and Wales. The review of Exercise Watermark published in October 2011 recommended action to clarify the issue and the Pitt Review into the 2007 floods also recommended a statutory duty.
Exercise Watermark highlighted how stretched resources were in dealing with an "artificial" four-day exercise which was not run 24 hours, around the clock, at any stage. This weekend's 72-hours of constant rainfall and around the clock response will be far more testing, the union warns.
The FBU has warned that the loss of up to 10,000 frontline firefighters over the next few years will make matters worse. Austerity cuts of this magnitude will put the lives of the public and fire crews at greater risk.
The union is warning that fire authorities facing huge cuts by 2015 are already looking at scaling back to doing only what they are legally obliged to do, which excludes flood response. Each fire service will make its own decisions, undermining a coherent response across the country.
Some fire authorities, such as the West Midlands, say they will pump out water from flooded homes. But they will charge £400 an hour to do so, while other fire authorities say they will not pump out flooded homes at all.
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary said: "Fire crews will be working flat out to protect their communities from the impact of the floods. But their work is undermined by cuts which have taken place since the huge floods of 2007.
"The predicted floods this weekend will severely test fire services which have already been cut to the bone. Up to 10,000 frontline fire crews could be axed in the next few years, cuts which will inevitably undermine public and firefighter safety.
"The Pitt review highlighted the need for urgent action to place a legal duty on fire services to respond to flooding in 2008. Exercise Watermark also highlighted the same issue earlier this year, yet the Government simply ignores the issue.
"Northern Ireland and Scotland now legally require their fire services to respond to flooding while England and Wales do not. It is a ridiculous position in which to place the UK's fire services.
"The huge cuts being planned will pressure fire authorities to cut services back to what they are legally required to do, and that excludes flooding. As each authority makes its own decisions, the result will be a postcode lottery in flood response, undermining a common approach across the country.
"The major cuts to frontline fire crews, command and control centres and officers must be halted. There is a very real danger that lives will be lost if the cuts are not stopped."