Budget cuts could leave fire services struggling

Fire brigade, safety, cuts, politics, Olivia Whaley, Kettle Mag
Written by Oliviawhaley

What would you do if you called 999 and no one answered? It’s probably something that has never crossed your mind. You, like many others, just assume that if you needed it, someone would be there to help. But, with services, such as fire facing even more budget cuts, can you be sure that there will be an instant response if you were in trouble? What if they couldn’t afford to hire staff to answer your calls of help?

Growing up, we are taught that in emergencies we must call the number 999.  These services are seen as safety blankets for our country. But how they are funded isn’t regularly discussed with society. If we are taught that these services are going to protect us, shouldn’t we also be taught how we can protect them?

Across the country, fire services could face cuts that may reduce their budgets up to 25 per cent, which would result in the closing of stations, loss of jobs and a longer response to calls. This will prove to be life threatening – to both the service itself and the people who could need its help.

Difficult decisions

I, like many other young people, found myself to be naïve to this issue until I came across student protesters in the town centre recently. It got me thinking about how it had never seemed to me, that a service so willing to help people could be treated so badly by them. Judging from my own experience, I believe this should be something that should have been brought up in my many years of education.

Norfolk’s fire and rescue service predict that if these cuts go through, on average 7 more people a year will lose their lives to fire related incidents. 7 more innocent lives, 7 more families and friends affected, 7 more times the service feel they can’t do their job. All of this just to save us money. I am not oblivious, I know money doesn’t grow on trees but I do know that no amount of money in the world is more important than a valuable life. I hope you, as readers, can see this too.

British fire services are partially funded by a revenue support grant from the Government. But this grant has been slowly dwindling over the past years. Stations like Leicester, which is already known as one of the worst funded in the country, may have to take drastic measures, resulting in closing stations, if the cuts go through.

I spoke to Alan Fawkner, Group Manager of the Leicestershire Fire and Rescue service, who told me: “In 2013/14, the service received around £12 million from the grant but in 2019/20 this is predicted to go down to around £2.4 million.”

In situations like this, the services are left to make many difficult decisions. Services across the country could be left with very few options, having to choose between closing stations, losing firefighters and spreading the costs across all departments. Is it fair to force the chief officers into decisions, where all the outcomes are not suitable for any of us?

Student protestor Lucy Nuttall has been taking to the streets to help encourage others, especially young people, to understand the problems the services are facing. When I asked her stance on the situation, she told me: “It seems there are no limits to the extent of Tory austerity – the proposed cuts affect all residents of the city and will undoubtedly cost lives.”

Despite this, it is worth noting that Alan told me how since 2003, his service has managed to successfully response to 50% more calls and in recent years there have been more ways to receive early warnings of fire. Although this is a positive for the fire service, it can’t continue improving if the cuts are put in place. This would result in a massive step back for the achievements that the services have made over the years.

Alan summed it up for me by saying: “We will always need fire brigades. Nothing will ever stop fires in homes.”

And of course he is right, we always will. It is important to always remember that despite the changes in our society, the improvements in response calls and the safety in new buildings, that we will always need this service. Can we, as a society, live with the knowledge that we could wipe out something that is seen to provide a basic human right like safety? I believe it comes down to people being unaware.

Teaching others how they can help is the best thing to do in our situation. This is something we just cannot pretend we are unaware of anymore.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.