The ability of the fire and rescue service to respond to the Smethwick fire was stretched â€˜to breaking pointâ€™ by government cuts, firefighters have said. Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, Matt Wrack, visited the site of the ongoing operation on Tuesday and spoke to firefighters about their experiences. Wrack said: â€œFirefighters have done a fantastic job in fighting this massive fire and deserve nothing but praise.
“But the Smethwick fire stretched the service to absolute breaking point.
â€œThose involved in fighting the fire have made it clear that government cuts have hampered their ability to deal with major incidents, which may have massive consequences for public safety.â€
Firefighters dealing with the incident said that cuts to the service had caused:
- Delays to the arrival of specialist fire engines because of cuts in staff
- Some firefighters being required to spent excessive time (in at least one case 12 hours) in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions
- Fire engines being sent from Stafford and Malvern to compensate for West Midlands shortages
- Only one West Midlands engine left to cover the rest of the West Midlands (around 2.6 million) through large parts of the fireâ€™s first night
The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service has recently experienced:
- A 26% (or Â£20 million) cut to its budget
- A 22% reduction in the number of fire fighters (from 1850 to 1450), which is expected to reduce to 1,250 over the next few years
Firefighters said that several of the fire engines which fought the fire will be lost to the cuts in a matter of weeks.
At least 13 firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze.
West Midlands firefighter and FBU official, Paul Cockburn, said: â€œThe government must stop the cuts. Put simply, peopleâ€™s lives are at stake.
â€œFirefighters are sick of being praised by politicians whilst seeing their service slashed to pieces.
â€œAny other significant incident in West Midlands on that evening would have been impossible to deal with because of shortage of firefighters and fire engines.â€