South Yorkshire firefighters are operating in a “day-to-day” existence as they struggle to deal with accidents such as floods more frequently, while fighting against austerity.
Floods at the end of the past year highlighted the need for a change in the way resources are allocated to fire services, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), while South Yorkshire firefighters traveled to Westminster today to put pressure on MPs to join their campaign.
Neil Carbutt, secretary of the FBU’s South Yorkshire Brigade, said that last year the South Yorkshire fire brigade authority had a £ 4 million black hole which meant that 83 jobs in the service were at risk .
In the end, jobs were saved, but Carbutt said: “This has facilitated some other conversations around, does the financing formula really work for South Yorkshire? And no financing formula works for South Yorkshire and we all recognize the problems. ”
Floods in Fishlake and elsewhere in Yorkshire at the end of last year showed the crucial role of firefighters in these disasters, however, although they have the power to help in these situations, they do not have to do it by law.
However, Carbutt said the FBU is pushing for floods to be included in the legal duties of firefighters so that the right funding can be obtained, while there has been a shortage at the moment.
He said: “We have had floods in Fishlake recently, they have to be sustained by the service and when we face these cuts and financial pressures, they are crushed.
“To put it in context, if we have 85 firefighters out of service, four less fire trucks in Fishlake.”
Carbutt said that one of the most poignant photos during the Fishlake floods is that of two firefighters from Rotherham who passed a Sainsbury bag in the top window of a house to an elderly woman.
He said, “They had gone to buy tea, milk and biscuits with their money.”
“They are boots on the ground, many of the rescues have not been reported, many acts of kindness.”
Andy Strelczenie, chief of emergency response at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said his role in trying to make sure the service has sufficient resources “has become increasingly difficult to perform.”
He said: “Over the past 10 years it has become increasingly difficult, the big expenses are on staff costs, but it becomes more and more difficult for the funding formula and people in South Yorkshire sometimes suffer.”
And he said there was a disparity between areas where some services got more funding than others.
Carbutt said that in areas where people pay more municipal taxes, and therefore could potentially be better, local firefighters have made more investments, leaving no more disadvantaged areas.
Strelczenie said: “Funding for floods is rather scarce. We had a number of organizations that came up and helped us and we helped West Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria. But this has a cost, there is a financial cost and we can recover some of the financing, but we have been told that these are events once every 50 years and that is not the case.
“We are truly proud of what our men and women are doing, but we must be able to continue.
“They want to be able to provide the best service, obviously it has an impact on them. The Doncaster floods have shown that some of them have gone far beyond that, but it’s not a reasonable question and we shouldn’t rely on it.”
Robert Taylor, president of the South Yorkshire fire department, added that the floods in Doncaster are “just one example of something that really stretched our capabilities.”
He said: “Austerity has pushed us into a position where day by day we are in close contact with existence.”
The FBU has now launched a campaign for fairer funding for firefighting services, supported by the South Yorkshire service and the firefighting authority, which would include improving flood funds.
And yesterday they had the support of MPs Rosie Winterton, Clive Betts, Ed Miliband, Gill Furniss, Olivia Blake and Sarah Champion, who all visited to show their support.
Carbutt said: “It is a really positive message, we hope we can launch a campaign for fairer financing. We obviously want a longer-term financing agreement than we currently have.
“We want to see more investments in service financing and in the current mechanisms that decide it.”
The Ministry of the Interior was contacted for comment.