Under pressure: Surviving in the hot zone

Temperatures rocketed, firefighting operations were described as “absolute hell”, London Fire Brigade reported its busiest day since World War II: welcome to summer 2022. And it’s only getting worse/hotter. The National Fire Chiefs Council report that there have been 442 wildfires already this year, as opposed to 247 in 2021.

London alone responded to 1,146 incidents and Brigade Control took 2,670 calls on July 19. It is incredible to report that action taken by firefighters meant there were no fatalities that day.

It would therefore appear apposite that this issue focuses on climate change (see pg 32 of August issue). It is, however, future focused, forecasting potential pitfalls with challenges presented by emerging technologies, attaining zero-emission through the development of electric fire appliances and the growing risk of lithium-ion batteries. Gearing up for tackling escalating risk is Fire Service bread and butter, information and knowledge exchange ensuring personnel are forewarned and forearmed.

“The devastating impact of climate change is not just on our doorstep: it has kicked down the door, torn through the house and wiped-out entire streets”

In a prophetic piece of reporting on rural-urban interface fires – experienced to devastating effect by residents in Wennington – Senior Correspondent Tony Prosser says learnings could be shared from across the world. Airborne fire attack using helicopters, an increasing reliance on off road response, high expansion foam and wet water systems have all become common place.

The introduction of tactical advisors for wildland firefighting has helped raise awareness of the emerging risk and special preventative and protective measures have been undertaken. Our correspondent suggests offering advice on spatial separation between urban areas to prevent direct or indirect fire spread from burning trees or crops as well as supporting communities during heatwaves as an extra Fire and Rescue Service function. Additionally, seasonal crewing of more rural stations may be required, including enhancing staff numbers in the ‘wildfire season’ – a model used extensively around the globe.

However, the devastating impact of global warming is not just on our doorstep: it has kicked down the door, torn through the house and wiped-out entire streets. This wasn’t meant to happen here. It may be something our Australian, US and European readers were thinking a few years back. What is more shocking is that this is a taster of things to come.

It is tempting to add to the dire forecasting with doom mongering on the ability of fire and rescue services to cope against the backdrop of cuts. Grinding to a halt and collapsing under the strain should have happened during the immense duress of Covid, but it didn’t. Nor did it last month as major incidents were announced across the country. Nor should it if fire and rescue services work together and in partnership with agencies to tackle the risk, focus resources and ensure National Resilience works.

Meanwhile, let’s continue to raise awareness and push for more research on the impact of heat stress and fire contaminants to ensure optimal firefighter and public safety. It is an issue I raised with Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Andy Cooke (see pg 15) and will be revisited in coming editions. Global warming is not going away and nor are we on campaigning for firefighter and public safety.

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