Wildfires stretched fire and rescue staff to the limit
National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Mark Hardingham reflects on one of the hottest summers on record which brought out the ‘absolute best’ of UK fire and rescue services.
During the recent hot weather – with record temperatures and the hottest summer for more than 40 years – we saw once again the absolute best of our UK fire and rescue services.
Not only were the number of incidents attended incredibly high, control room staff also dealt with thousands upon thousands of calls. Their professionalism ensured help got to where it was needed most, as we saw fires break out across the entire country as demand increased hugely.
To give some context to the scale of what fire and rescue services faced, in 2021 there were 247 wildfires across the entire year, the latest figures for 2022 reports 777 wildfires to date. We saw 155 in less than one week alone. This does not take into account smaller grass and woodland fires which do not meet the threshold for a wildfire.
During the first heatwave, I briefed both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister on the situation and NFCC were providing hourly reports into ministers as the situation changed.
It is testament to Fire and Rescue Service staff how well they coped, despite – at times – being stretched to the limit. We saw at least 15 major incidents being declared simultaneously that are larger, more complex incidents, which are likely to endanger lives, threaten larger areas and require additional levels of co-ordination across a range of emergency services and other agencies.
While hot and dry summers are not new, the extended dry period and high temperatures were unusual. However, our changing climate means we are more likely to see extreme weather more often; I am working with colleagues across NFCC to look at how we are prepared for these and what mitigation and resilience measures we need for the future.
NFCC’s National Resilience capability was – as you would expect – working hard, providing updates up to three times a day during this time, while deploying Fire Service assets and specialist advisers to assist at some of the large and complex incidents.
London Fire Brigade reported its busiest day since the Second World War, attending more than 1,110 incidents. At one stage the brigade was attending 15 large scale incidents at the same time; some requiring between ten and 30 fire appliances to be at scene.
“It is testament to Fire and Rescue Service staff how well they coped, despite – at times – being stretched to the limit”
At the time of writing, while the weather has now cooled, we have not seen significant rainfall, meaning conditions are still spate for wildfires, which could once again pull on the resources of fire and rescue services. One of the biggest risks currently is a combination of temperature and wind speed, which could contribute to fire spread and makes incidents harder to manage and extinguish.
We sadly also saw a high number of water fatalities in this period, which fire and rescue services also attended to carry out water rescues. This really drives home our ongoing water safety campaign messages and prevention work in this area.
I know fire and rescue services are well prepared and have plans in place to respond to high volumes of calls in a short period, in conjunction with other organisations and agencies to help keep people safe.
I would like to give thanks to firefighters, control staff, officers and support staff who worked tirelessly during this period, in difficult conditions. Their professional support in co-ordinating the increased demand was second to none, with the ultimate aim to keep people and property safe.
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