Are Firefighters Being Pushed too Far?
The economic crisis seems to have spawned a surge in public spending cuts that many feel will cause long term damage to the fabric of society. Slashing social care spending, housing benefits, budget squeezes for key public services like healthcare and safety, caps on salaries for public jobs: all these actions are ultimately expected to save money. But will they end up causing irreparable damage to our society?
Take the case of fire fighting – which happens to be a vital public service that ends up saving hundreds of lives. Several fire brigades across the nation are expected to save millions of pounds in the next few years. How can fire departments cut spending and save? Like many other public services – by cutting jobs, reducing the number of staff, pay freezes and cutting down on resources.
With a service like fire fighting that often involves helping people caught in life threatening situations, and potentially saving people’s lives, squeezing budgets to dangerous levels can have equally dangerous consequences. Expecting huge savings within the very short period of time could drive services to make rash and unsafe decisions that could compromise safety and put people’s lives at risk.
For example, in the face of shrinking budgets and the availability of fewer resources, some fire brigades have started using brigade response vehicles, especially for smaller fires. These vehicles consume less fuel and are smaller and more manageable, so may also reduce response time. But there are fears that these smaller and lighter vehicles may end up replacing heavier vehicles that accommodate larger crews, on a much wider basis.
Many fire-fighters who put their lives at risk to help people fear that while this may help cut costs, it may also compromise on safety and efficiency. While brigade response vehicles may be useful for smaller fires and relatively minor incidents, they can prove to be risky and less than useful to put out larger fires and deal with more dangerous situations.
According to the fire brigades union, recent cuts in spending have meant that more than seventy fire stations in England alone are at risk of being closed down altogether. This may mean putting several people at risk of delayed service. Apart from the potential closures, numerous stations across the nation have already had to and will have to face lowered standards of equipment and reduced manpower due to a fundamental lack of resources.
Is it right to cut public spending to levels where public safety is being compromised? Granted we have a huge deficit and the economy is showing little sign of recovery from the recent global financial disaster. But does that qualify the government to squeeze public services to such a dangerous extent that they become crippled?
Will this kind of austerity really help our economy to recover or simply make our society more inequitable, and in the case of fire fighting – more unsafe?