Firefighters taking record length of time to attend blazes and say climate change is making their jobs harder, report finds

Jamie Johnson
The average response time to ‘primary’ fires is more than half a minute longer than five years ago - © Andrew Price / View Finder Pi

Firefighters are taking a record amount of time to attend the most serious blazes, and say that climate change is making their jobs harder, a new report shows.

The average response time to ‘primary’ fires is more than half a minute longer than five years ago, at eight minutes and 49 seconds, according to Home Office data.

This represents an increase of 11 seconds since 2017/18 and of 33 seconds since 2013/14, despite there being fewer fires to put out.

Officials have called the rise “concerning” as “these are the fires where we see the most injuries, fatalities and damage to property.”

An average response time of 10 minutes and 34 seconds in predominantly rural areas in 2018/19 was up 18 seconds on 2017/18 and 27 seconds on 2013/14.

Fire services' average response time to the most serious category of fires is more than half a minute longer than five years ago, new figures have revealed Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

Significantly rural areas had an average response time of nine minutes 59 seconds in 2018/19, which was 13 seconds longer than 2017/18 and 52 seconds more than 2013/14.

Fire and rescue services in predominantly urban areas had an average total response time of seven minutes and 41 seconds to primary fires in 2018/19.

This represents an increase of six seconds since 2017/18 and 24 seconds since 2013/14.

The Home Office said the increase at a national level in the total response time to primary fires was "entirely caused by the increase in average drive time".

The department highlighted that the increase in average response times to primary fires was not evenly spread among its different types of location.

But the National Fire Chiefs Council said that the statistical longer-term response time trends may be a cause for concern and that a changing climate is affecting their jobs.

NFCC Chair Roy Wilsher said: “The response time increase for primary fires is concerning as these are the fires where we see the most injuries, fatalities and damage to property.

“The rise in response times to secondary fires is striking. However, we are experiencing changing risk due to climate change. In the UK there is a significant rise in wildfires during the summer, but we are also seeing a rise in non-fire incidents such as flooding. 

“Fire Services are still struggling to recover from the austerity cuts of recent years which has included services seeing a 23 per cent reduction in wholetime firefighters.”