Lancashire firefighters taking longer to reach serious fires
Fire crews in Lancashire took more than half a minute longer to reach the most serious fires last year than they did five years ago, new figures show.
The Fire Brigades Union warns that a matter of seconds "could be the difference between life and death," blaming cuts to fire and rescue services for the rising response times across England.
Home Office data reveals that the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service took an average of eight minutes and nine seconds to reach primary fires in 2018-19.
That means firefighters took 45 seconds longer to reach the scene last year than in 2013-14, while the average response time was up by seven seconds from 2017-18.
Primary fires are the most serious, with the potential to harm people or cause damage to property.
Total response times for England’s fire and rescue services are measured by the time elapsed between the first call and the arrival of the first vehicle to the incident.
In Lancashire, during 2018-19, call handling took an average of one minute and 26 seconds, while crew turnout took around one minute and 22 seconds.
Driving to the scene took up most of the service’s response time, with the average journey to primary fires taking five minutes and 21 seconds – 34 seconds longer than in 2013-14.
Nationally, the average response time to primary fires in 2018-19 was eight minutes and 49 seconds – increasing by 33 seconds since 2013-14.
The Home Office said the increase was "caused by the increase in average drive time," adding that slower responses to primary fires could be down to changing traffic levels and control room staff asking more questions to better assess the risk and attendance needed.
However, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, says cuts to services have had a "staggering" impact on response times over a number of years.
He said: “In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it’s obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.
“This is just part of the picture. Many services are not properly crewing fire engines, so there is no guarantee that there will be a safe number of firefighters on board when it arrives.
“The slowing of response times has been gradual, but the impact over a number of years is staggering. The government urgently needs to invest in our services and, crucially, we need national standards to set a required response time. Every second counts.”
A landmark report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, released recently, said there is “undesirable” variation between how services across England respond to incidents.
The report calls on central and local government leaders, fire and rescue authorities and trade unions to make "bold, long-term decisions" to bring "significant reform" to the sector.