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COP26: Firefighters ‘need funding to tackle floods caused by climate change’ after callouts in England reach 7-year high

Rescues and casualties linked to flooding are also at the highest level for at least a decade, exclusive analysis shows.

<p>Firefighters recorded the highest number of incidents involving rescues from flooding for a decade last year
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Firefighters recorded the highest number of incidents involving rescues from flooding for a decade last year

Firefighter callouts to floods reached a seven-year high last year in England, with rescues and casualties at their highest for at least a decade, analysis by NationalWorld reveals.

The Fire Brigade Union says the figures reflect the impact of climate change – but firefighters’ safety and ability to respond to increased flooding is being put at risk by staff cuts and a lack of funding.

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It comes as delegates at the COP26 climate conference are set to discuss how to help communities prepare for “the worst impacts of climate change” – with ‘adaptation and resilience’ a key theme of the make-or-break gathering of nations.

A Home Office database of non-fire incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England reveals crews were called to the scene of 16,710 floods or water rescues in 2019/20 – the highest since 2012/13.

NationalWorld has excluded rescues from settings where swimmers may have gotten into difficulty, such as lakes, rivers, beaches or the sea.

Instead, the data covers the types of incidents that could be affected by extreme weather – in homes, gardens and other buildings or on roads, pavements and from vehicles.

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The data also shows firefighters made rescues at 1,011 of the incidents – the highest number since records began in 2010/11.

At least one casualty or fatality was recorded at 156 incidents, also the highest since records began.

As a proportion of overall incidents, the number of rescues was still the highest on record last year, at 6%. The casualty rate was the second highest (0.9%), surpassed by 2018-19’s 145 casualties out of 13,713 callouts (1.1%).

Earlier this year NationalWorld revealed how councils in England had spent £1.7 billion on flood and coastal erosion defences over the last decade, with real terms spending on floods rising by 176% and on coastal defences by 59%.

The Fire Brigades Union said NationalWorld’s analysis of rescue data “confirms what firefighters already know – as the effects of climate change increase, flooding is getting worse”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the nation is in “real danger” this winter of seeing “ similar scenes to those in Europe this summer, when dozens of people lost their lives to floods”.

“Fire and rescue will be a key part of adapting to this element of climate change. Yet at the moment the Government isn’t even providing statutory funding specifically for flooding,” he continued.

“That needs to change. We’ve heard stories of firefighters left without dry suits, or left exposed to microbes in flood waters due to suits not being adequately decontaminated.

“Firefighters being left in a position where they can’t properly fight floods is a danger to them and to the public.

“We also need more sufficient staff to deal with the increases in flooding. Restoring the 20% of firefighters lost since 2010 would be a good place to start.”

The Home Office was approached for comment.

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