We need a national debate on flood resilience
Workers in both the public and private sectors have responded magnificently to flooding in recent weeks, as they did during the early December tidal surge. Firefighters along with other workers have kept communities safe, helping those at risk and those putting their lives back together after widespread disruption.
Fire Brigades Union members are proud to take part in all aspects of flood work, from helping build defences, evacuate people and of course emergency intervention, rescuing people, protecting properties and critical infrastructure. Just before Christmas, firefighters in Dorset, Devon and Somerset, East and West Sussex, Hampshire and London dealt with thousands of incidents. Similar work was done on 5 December 2013 during the tidal surge down the east coast of England, in Wales and Scotland.
The year 2012 was the second wettest on record for the UK. The FBU found that firefighters responded to nearly twice the number of floods as in the previous year.
There have been many other flood incidents this century, notably in summer 2007 and in Cumbria in 2009. We know from Defra’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (2012) that the risk of flooding has increased and will increase further in the coming years, and that adaptation to this climate risk is an absolute necessity.
It’s therefore ridiculous that there is no duty on the fire and rescue service in England and Wales to respond to major flooding.
It means the resources and investment needed currently have to come from existing budgets, which have been hit by nearly 20% since this government came to power.
There are 5,000 fewer firefighters today than at the time of the 2007 floods. Although there are more boats and high volume pumps, there are still serious deficiencies in the training, PPE, equipment and facilities provided for firefighters to do our jobs during flooding. Flood resilience matters and it has to be planned and funded accordingly.
As a result, we at the FBU have been campaigning for a statutory duty on the fire and rescue service in England and Wales to respond to major flooding. Scotland and Northern Ireland already have it. The Pitt Review recommended it. And others in the fire and rescue service agree it is needed. The union wants the coalition government and Labour party to support the implementation of the duty as a matter of urgency.
We’re also calling for a wide review of the current arrangements for tackling flooding. We believe a national debate on everything from flood defence to flood emergency intervention is an appropriate political response to the recent floods, and we hope a coalition of trade unionists working in flood management as well as those living in communities affected should be a powerful voice in this debate.