Firefighter recruitment drive planned in South Yorkshire after worrying warning over impact of cuts
Big cuts to firefighter numbers in South Yorkshire mean they might no longer be able to tackle every blaze, it has been warned.
But South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue has reassured members of the public, pointing out that staff numbers have started to rise and a ‘significant’ recruitment drive is on the way.
Figures published by the Fire Brigades Union show that since the beginning of austerity in 2010, one in five firefighter roles have been lost, with numbers nationally falling by 11,680.
In South Yorkshire, the number of firefighters dropped by 28 per cent between 2010 and 2021, the data shows, with 259 jobs going.
However, during the last year, while numbers have continued to fall elsewhere, 33 new firefighters have been recruited in South Yorkshire – a rise of five per cent.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “After years of huge government cuts and staffing falls there is a real threat that fire and rescue services may not be able to deal with every incident, and fight all fires: for example, we have heard senior service managers state that the public should lower their expectations that large wildfires can be tackled.
“The cuts are weakening the day-to-day work of the fire and rescue service in every single area; they are making people less safe. They also pose a threat to the ability to respond to large-scale incidents - particularly if more than one were to occur at the same time.
“Households deserve to feel protected. We all want to be able to walk past fire stations and know that there are enough people in there to protect us. And firefighters will always do whatever they can to save lives. It’s time the government does the same.”
The union published the figures, obtained via Freedom of Information requests, ahead of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference.
It claims there is plenty of evidence that cuts to staff have left fire and rescue services nationwide close to ‘breaking point’, with response times for all types of fires in England up since 2010 and fire audit and home fire safety check numbers in England constantly falling across this period.
And it says the pressure could be made even more acute due to the perils posed by climate change, which is thought to have increased both the flood risk and the number of wildfires in the UK.
According to the FBU, across the UK, excluding Northern Ireland, the number of firefighters has fallen by 20 per cent since 2010 and by 0.4 per cent between 2020 and 2021.
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said: “During a period of austerity, many fire and rescue services received reductions in their government funding. Given most of our money is spent on staff, this has inevitably affected firefighter numbers.
“However, we are continuing to provide an effective and professional 999 response service to local people. In more recent years, firefighter numbers have not fallen at all and we have plans to recruit dozens of new firefighters in South Yorkshire in the coming months.”