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Firefighter numbers in England down 20% since 2010, analysis shows

As the role of the fire service in tackling the worst effects of the climate crisis becomes clearer, so does the scale of cuts to the service in recent years.

Guardian analysis of publicly available data shows total firefighter headcount across 46 English fire authorities has fallen 20.4% since 2010, with 35,279 in 2021 compared with 44,307 in 2010, accounting for full-time and on-call firefighters.

Other official data reveals cuts to budgets as well as the number of staffed stations in the country.

The risk of underfunding the fire service in the face of climate breakdown has never been starker with the second heatwave this summer once again threatening wildfires across the country.

The previous heatwave, in July, saw firefighters called to various blazes, including one in Wennington, east London, where two rows of terrace houses were destroyed.

Firefighters in England

The data is troubling in the light of warnings that heatwaves and drier summers will become increasingly common due to the impact of a hotter planet.

Looking at individual authorities, West Yorkshire, Northumberland and Staffordshire have all seen headcounts fall by more than a third since 2010.

Data collected by the Local Government Association (LGA) shows the number of staffed fire stations in England fell from 1,432 in 2009/2010 to 1,393 in 2019/2020.

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Analysis by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) of local government financing of fire and rescue services in England revealed a £139.7m or 14% cut between 2016/17 and 2021/22.

Some fire and rescue services have seen their government funding cut by more than 40%, with individual brigades losing as much as £22m.

Firefighters in West Yorkshire

The FBU’s analysis reveals that from 2016/17 to 2021/22, four have had their funding cut by more than a third. West Sussex has lost £4.3m or 43.9%; Warwickshire £2.9m or 40.8%; Oxfordshire £3.2m or 38.2%; and Surrey £6.1m or 34.3%.

London fire brigade experienced the biggest cut in cash terms, losing £22.1m or 9.5% of its funding.

Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “Just over a fortnight ago firefighters had to deal with many serious wildfires across much of the country. Several firefighters were injured and many people lost their homes.

“Heatwaves have been on the government’s National Risk Register since its first iteration in 2008. Wildfire as a national risk was added to the register in 2013.”

He went on: “Understaffing has been so bad that throughout the last period of wildfires nearly all fire and rescue services in the most severely affected areas had to call up off-duty firefighters and ask them to perform extra shifts.

“If we are to properly protect life and property from wildfires, the fire service urgently needs huge investment.”

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