UK Firefighters Lives at Great Risk - April 2008
'Our peacetime firefighters have never been at greater risk when fighting structure
fires than they are today! ...Firefighter life losses in the UK are currently at
their highest rate for over 30 years! Our firefighters have never been so at
risk as they are now but the situation is going to get much worse, with massive
depletion of resources being proposed. Modernization is now in full swing and
the predictions made on this very web site in 2002 (HERE), in response to the
'Bain report', are now being seen.
Author of Euro Firefighter
Paul Grimwood reports ....
Since 1991 I have openly written about a British Fire Service in
decline. Critical resources being depleted, the reduction of a national aerial
ladder fleet, increasing workloads and a reduction in staffing to carry out that
work. However, this sad demise in service provision is now having a dramatic
effect on the firefighting force itself.
Statistically, prior to 2004, the UK Fire Service incurred
traumatic operational fatalities at a fairly consistent average of about one
firefighter per year per 100,000 structure fires. However, during the period
2004-2007 the life losses have dramatically increased to 2.7 firefighters per
100,000 structure fires. That is one firefighter fatality for every
37,000-structure fires. The death rate has almost trebled. We used to be proud
of our 'safety' record but our average annual firefighter life loss rate (per
100,000 fires) is now
higher than that in the USA!
the USA the traumatic death rate amongst firefighters demonstrates that 1.9
firefighters are killed per year, per 100,000 structure fires
(a rate only slightly lower than that observed in the early 1980s),
although this rate was at its highest (3.0 per 100,000 structure fires) across a
thirty-year period, peaking in the 1990s.
The main causes of these LODD (Line of Duty Deaths) are smoke inhalation;
burns; crushing injuries and related trauma. Most importantly, both the UK
and US statistics provided above are strictly related to firefighting operations
and exclude all other causes of death, such as heart attacks and road accidents
Various tactical and command failings have directly evolved from a triangle of
complacency that is now rife amongst the British Fire Service.
1. Lack of firefighting experience
2. Inadequate firefighter and
3. Complacency (Lack of
There are also a dozen clear tactical failings that, as a result of inadequate
training provision, can be seen over and again leading to problems on the
1. Failure to confine the fire until a charged hose-line is in place
2. Failure to deploy resources effectively
3. Failure to provide adequate flow-rate at the primary attack nozzle
4. Failure to effectively brief crews prior to deployment
5. Deviation from documented operating procedure without good reason
6. Failure to implement tactical venting actions in the right place at the right
7. Failure to provide a back-up support hose-line
8. Failure to communicate effectively
9. Failure to apply safe BA working practices
10. Failure to undertake effective search patterns
11. Failure to establish a tactical mode (offensive/defensive) at the outset
12. Failure to establish effective command & control from the outset
Cover Computer Models
We now see the UK national fire cover being assessed by experts using computer
models based on life risk - wonderful! Only that is NOT firefighter life risk!
We also see the first dramatic moves to reduce staffing complements on fire engines.
These 'experts' play with computer models, taking all the fire engines out of
the equation, then noting how civilian life losses increase slightly in an area.
Imagine ... an area without any fire cover whatsoever but the life losses
through fire are not as dramatic as one would imagine! Then they put half the
fire engines back into an area and note that civilian life losses return to
'normal' (almost the same as if we had the current complement of staffing and
resources/engines). 'Why do we need so many fire engines'? These learned people
ask! 'Why do we need so many fire stations'?! 'What about firefighters ... we
can cut staffing by thousands and still maintain civilian life losses around the
rate that would normally be expected!!
Has anyone considered the effect this will have on those few firefighters who
remain in service!
Halve the resources and firefighters are placed under even greater stress. Their job is
dangerous enough now. Firefighters are already attending fires in tall buildings
and other situations understaffed and this planned depletion in resources will
drain any ability to work within safe systems of work.
The firefighter life losses will continue to increase over the next decade.
Unless .... we stand outside .... and go defensive from the outset .... and
'squirt' water through windows. Well the civilian life loss statistics might go
up slightly but look how much money we have saved!
Whatever happened to the co-responder programs where other civilian life losses
will be reduced by getting fire engines out to heart attack victims within that
critical five minute period! Why haven't they built that into their 'models'!
Then there is the deceit being used to produce life loss statistics in the first
place! Are we seeing the REAL situation? See article HERE
Another area of great concern is the provision of firefighting water supplies.
There is a false belief common in the UK fire service that we can fight
compartment fires more effectively by resorting to CFBT tactics, using LESS
water than was needed before. Less water distributed more effectively in the
fire gas layers suppresses fires even quicker than large amounts of water
directed at the fire's base. This is ridiculous! The original CFBT programs were
never meant to see a reduction in needed flow-rate but rather a more optimized
use of the firefighting stream.
flow-rates are already dangerously low (230 litres/min measured national average
from a 45mm hose-line). (NB. France and the USA have adopted minimum
firefighting flow-rates by law of at least twice that rate - in the UK
there is no established minimum flow-rate and 'safe systems of work' are at
great risk). Now the modernization (cost cutting) program is seeing moves to cut
the number of fire hydrants dramatically. This will force reducing numbers of
firefighters to fight fires using limited 'on-board' water supplies as the
hydrant grid is reduced, utilizing flow-rates well below internationally
accepted safe minimums. There are further issues with inadequate rising main
installations and inappropriate placement of smoke shafts sited in some
'firefighting' shafts. All these issues will surface in time to cause further
problems for the under-resourced fire service.
The British Fire Service, along with the society it protects, is facing a
FIRE BRIGADES UNION REPORT ON FIREFIGHTER
DEATH RATE HERE