From the TUC

Flood emergencies: Government ducking its duty

28 Jun 2012, by in Environment

This June looks like being the wettest for 100 years. Firefighters on the frontline have responded magnificently again to flood emergencies. But why are more resources not there for emergency intervention? Why are the risks of climate change still not taken seriously?

Last Friday, a month’s rain fell in 24 hours in parts of northern England and led to widespread flooding. In West Yorkshire fire control staff dealt with over 200 flood-related calls in one night. Fire crews rescued six people trapped on a barge near Hebden Bridge and dealt with chemicals at the flooded Dewsbury Sports Centre. High Volume Pumps were used for pumping out a foundry and homes in Todmorden.

FBU officials reported flood rescues in Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Devon and Cornwall over the weekend. Fire crews in Mid and West Wales fire and rescue service faced a similar downpour between 8 and 10 June. Around 150 firefighters attended more than 50 separate incidents, making over 100 rescues.

In recent years, almost every local fire brigade has seen major flooding on their own patch or committed firefighters across borders to assist others. Government figures show that firefighters attended over 20,000 flood incidents in 2010-11. In the 2007 summer floods, firefighters rescued over 3,000 people and saved vital infrastructure.

Firefighters know that climate change may result in more flooding, due to higher river flows, rising sea levels and changing rainfall patterns affecting surface water. The government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (2012) projects a significant increase in flood risk across the UK. Today, around 900,000 people are exposed to significant likelihood of flooding. This is estimated to increase to between 1.3 million and 3.6 million people by the 2050s. Currently around six million homes and workplaces (or one in six of all properties) are exposed to some degree of flood risk.

We welcomed the Government’s Pitt Review after the 2007 floods. Pitt confirmed the risks of flooding and proposed a range of action. It recommended that the government should:

“urgently put in place a fully funded national capability for flood rescue, with Fire and Rescue Authorities playing a leading role, underpinned, as necessary, by a statutory duty”.

Yet there’s is no specific duty requiring fire and rescue services in England and Wales to respond to major flooding, although Scotland and Northern Ireland do have a duty in place. We want to see the law clarified, so that firefighters can turn out in sufficient numbers and have the right equipment to protect the public. Fewer firefighters are available now to deal with floods and other emergencies. Successive governments have ducked these issues. They need resolving urgently before the next major flood.

GUEST POST: Matt Wrack is General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU)