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FIREFIGHTERS are warning that homes are at far higher risk than before because of budget cuts.
Speaking to the Star, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said today: “We simply do not have enough firefighters left to keep people safe. The service has been cut to ribbons.
“Fire deaths have increased, as has the amount of time it takes fire crews to respond to an emergency.
“This is what happens when you cut firefighter jobs and close stations.”
Two houses were destroyed last month in Chipstead, Surrey, following a car explosion nearby.
Firefighters from eight different Surrey stations attended the blaze, but several crews were tackling a large-scale fire at the same time that gutted the building of an industrial estate in neighbouring Epsom.
Surrey FBU secretary Lee Belsten said that staffing cuts mean slower response times and crews becoming overwhelmed with their workload, revealing that they couldn’t put out the car fire quickly enough to stop it spreading to the two homes.
He said: “It’s unusual for two large incidents to happen at the same time,” but Mr Belsten pointed out: “The first fire engine took 21 minutes to get to the fire and the usual response time is 10 minutes.
“The car fire would have been put out in 10 minutes and never would have spread to those houses.”
Although nobody was badly hurt, the two affected families are now living in rented accommodation and with friends.
A county council spokesman said: “We always respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.” He attempted to reassure worried residents with news that new recruitment campaign for firefighters would begin shortly.
But the FBU is critical of these claims, estimating that response times in Surrey are at their slowest since 1996.
The union says that the situation in Surrey reflects the picture nationally. Earlier this week, firefighters reported having to endure one of the “worst summers ever” for tending to fires, despite a startling reduction in staff numbers.
Mr Wrack said that successive Tory governments have devastated fire services.
Since the Conservatives took power in 2010, nearly 12,000 frontline firefighter jobs have been cut, Scotland bearing the brunt with the loss 1,123 firefighters. Wales has lost 267, Greater Manchester 700 and London 1,334.
In that time some 40 fire stations have closed due to low staffing and underfunding.
Mr Wrack said: “The Tories have led the longest, most sustained assault on the fire service in its entire history.
“They heap praise on firefighters after every major incident, yet they do not listen one iota to our professional concerns about the state of an overstretched and underfunded service.”
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