02 February 2015

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for urgent meetings with all stakeholders after a report into firefighter fatalities concluded that ‘good practice has periodically been ignored’ and that the deaths of some firefighters since 2004 ‘could and should have been prevented’.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack wants the report, which assessed the deaths of 14 firefighters who died in the line of duty over the past 10 years, “to focus minds on what can be done to improve public safety and firefighter safety”.

He said that while the FBU recognises that its members work in a dangerous environment, “firefighters should expect to be able to go home to their families after their day’s work. They do not go to work to die”.

He added: “We assess the risks and take carefully planned action to rescue people, to deal with incidents and to make communities safe. Our members have the right to demand the best possible procedures, training, equipment and resources to enable us to do our job safely, effectively and professionally. That is not too much to ask.”

Now he fears that reduced budgets for the service will lead to more tragic deaths: “This report demonstrates a need for investment, not cuts to the fire and rescue service. Budget cuts mean reductions in training, staffing, equipment and fire stations and continued operational duties of older firefighters. This will lead inevitably to further fatalities in the future.”

The report, Firefighter fatalities at fires in the UK 2004-2013: Voices from the fireground, was funded by the FBU and authored by Professor Andrew Watterson, of the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG).

It says unnecessary risks were sometimes taken to save property, that ‘good practice has periodically been ignored’, and:

  • Calls for direct and indirect role of central and senior local government and brigade managers in firefighter fatalities to be addressed
  • Provides detailed recommendations to address structural and functional failures that threaten firefighter health and safety; and
  • Recommends action to improve risk assessment, risk management and training.

Professor Watterson added that “risk assessment and risk management failed in some way and in some form in all the fatalities”, and that “lessons were not learnt that should have been”. Reinforcing the FBU’s concern, he concluded that reducing fire budgets and the number of firefighters "could lead to more deaths of both members of the public and firefighters”.

In the light of the report’s publication, Matt Wrack is calling on government to respond with some urgency, saying it cannot be filed, ignored or left for another day.

“Fourteen firefighters have died at fires in the past decade. We owe it to them to review all our systems now,” he said, insisting that while all risk cannot be removed, it can be reduced by positive action from fire services, local and central government, and regulatory and inspection bodies.

“It is important that we begin to identify the role played by central government, senior local government and brigade managers,” he said.

“These are the people ultimately responsible for the laws, budgets, staffing, systems, training, equipment and resources that our members rely on.”

Dave Smith, the FIA FIRESA Secretary, commented, "The report by the University of Stirling is welcomed given that fire fighter deaths while on duty over the past 10 years is double that recorded over the previous same period." 

He continued, "The FIA shares the concerns of the FBU and many others that stringent cuts to the Fire and Rescue Services, while resulting in some positive re-organisational measures, may impact both on the safety of fire fighters in carrying out their invaluable duties and on the effectiveness of their response."

Click here to download the report.

Original sources

Fire Brigades Union 

BBC News

Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.