Lancaster MP slams decision to axe units used in recent floods

Crook O Lune near Lancaster
Crook O Lune near Lancaster

Emergency decontamination units used in flood defence operations were amongst those axed in Government cuts, a Freedom of Information request revealed.

Critics had already warned the decision to remove from service a third of the Incident Response Units (IRUs), including one in Morecambe, equipped to deal with a “dirty bomb” and other major incidents such as floods posed a terror risk with “disastrous consequences for human safety”.

Now there are fears it has compromised the capacity to deal with the sort of devastating floods which hit parts of the UK including Lancaster in December.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said: “I urged ministers to put these plans on hold last month but they axed a third of these emergency vehicles at the height of the floods.”

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said: “I believe that there has been scaremongering from the Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Office Andy Burnham using an emotive subject as the recent flooding to scare people that their resources are being depleted.

“This is not the case as the decontamination equipment is not essential to wash off firefighters boots and clothes when they have been exposed to flood water and the normal fire hose should be used and is used in the vast majority of cases.

“In the small number of cases where the decontamination unit has been used across the country for this purpose it was used not for the purpose the equipment was designed for.

“Sufficient specialist units remain in place to provide the mass decontamination capability.”

MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Cat Smith said: “The Governments decision to scrap the decontamination units used by the fire and rescue service in the recent floods comes as a shock.

“The units, although commissioned with the expectation they would be used in terrorist incidents, have proved to be invaluable in recent flooding.

“Given all the warnings that flooding will be more recurrent in coming years I’m alarmed that we learn some of the tools we have to support communities are being axed.”

Deployments of the scrapped Incident Response Units (IRUs) were revealed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Press Association.

Logs showed one of the units taken out of service on December 31 - based at Bovey Tracey in Devon - was used for “decontamination of firefighters and other agencies” during the massive floods that affected the Somerset Levels and the West Country in 2014.

Another was sent twice from the fire station at Godstone, Surrey, “to help with erecting dams” .