Fire services 'completely unprepared' for heatwave, union chief warns

New London Fire Brigade recruits go through their paces during a drill at a Fire station in East London. Wednesday. Picture date: Thursday July 21, 2022.
Fire services are "completely unprepared" for the upcoming heatwave, a union chief has warned. (PA)

Emergency fire crews in the UK are "completely unprepared" for the upcoming heatwave, a union leader has said, as temperatures of up to 36C are expected across the country.

Firefighters across the country have been dealing with an increasing number of grass fires, as prolonged dry conditions and scorching temperatures leave grassland areas susceptible to catching alight.

But unions say services have been cut over the last 12 years, meaning the work has been stretched.

An amber heat warning has been put in place for parts of England and Wales from Thursday to Sunday, with temperatures set to climb to 35C or even 36C in some places.

Riccardo La Torre, national officer for the Fire Brigades Union told Sky News: "These are brutal, brutal fires to fight. The temperature that they burn at, the speed at which they spread at.

"The reality is we've been left completely unprepared to do that as a fire and rescue service.

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London Fire Brigade dealing with the aftermath of a grass fire in Rainham, east London. The Met Office has issued an amber warning for extreme heat covering four days from Thursday to Sunday for parts of England and Wales as a new heatwave looms. Picture date: Wednesday August 10, 2022.
London Fire Brigade dealing with the aftermath of a grass fire in Rainham, east London. (PA)
UK temperatures have been on the rise. (PA)
UK temperatures have been on the rise. (PA)

"We've had over a fifth of the workforce cut since 2010, that's over 11,500 firefighters cut. Yet we're asking them to deal with these extreme weather events in increasing regularity and increasing severity."

The London Fire Brigade alone saw its busiest ever week last month, as temperatures rose to the high thirties in the capital.

Firefighters attended more than 1,000 fires in the week from July 18 as temperatures soared, taking more than twice as many calls as usual and tackling an unprecedented number of large grassland fires.

During that period the brigade received 8,302 calls, while on average it usually takes around 450 calls a day.

On Wednesday 10 engines and 70 firefighters battled a blaze covering six hectares in Rainham, East London, which took over two hours to bring under control.

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The scene after a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London after temperatures topped 40C in the UK for the first time ever, as the sweltering heat fuelled fires and widespread transport disruption. Picture date: Wednesday July 20, 2022.
The scene after a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London. (PA)

The fire was just a mile from where a large blaze in Wennington on 19 July destroyed 16 homes, with crews fighting to save the fire station itself from the flames.

La Torre added: "The professionals on the ground have been warning that these conditions are coming and we very much saw the reality of that in these last few weeks.

"Firefighters have been injured, firefighters have ended up in hospital, we've seen families lose their homes, we've seen businesses lost, infrastructure burn to the ground, because we simply can't get to these fires quick enough.

"When we do, we simply don't have the resources to deal with them adequately."

The National Fire Chiefs Council has warned UK cities they need to prepare for wildfires after dozens of “unprecedented” blazes broke out during last month’s record breaking temperatures.

London’s fire chief has called for a “total ban” on disposable barbecues as the capital braces for a second summer heatwave.