Chief fire fighter warns yesterday “was a wake-up call”

The unprecedented numbers of fires sweeping the nation yesterday was a “wake-up” call, West Yorkshire chief says.

Dave Walton, DCFO

Dave Walton, Deputy Chief Fire Officer (DCFO) for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, is warning the situation seen across the UK yesterday will not be a one off and we need to get prepared now

He said: “Yesterday was a game changer and took us to a completely new level. Fires were spreading much more quickly than ever before.

“Usually when a big fire happens you can call on neighbouring fire services to help, but not yesterday. Everyone was busy and completely stacked out. This tells us we need a fundamental rethink how we resource our Fire and Rescue Service nationally, so we can be prepared for this. 

“The predictions are we will get heatwaves like this much more regularly, even as much as every three years, due to climate change. This is very different position we are in now compared to a one-off event nearly 50 years ago, and we need to see this as a wake-up call.

“We need to learn how we get prepared as a country for this and how we rethink the resource we have, or need going forward, so we are ready for these so homes, property and ultimately people’s lives are saved.”

Several fire services across the country, including London and some in Yorkshire, were forced to call a major incident due to issues they were experiencing.
While this did not happen in West Yorkshire, DCFO Walton revealed it was close.

“Fortunately, we didn’t see the big sweeping moorland fires we have tackled in the past, but that was luck more than anything.

“We did however have smaller grassland fires, and this could easily have sparked a bigger situation given the conditions.

“Those who were fighting the fires everywhere yesterday were extraordinary, and I know the public are extremely grateful for everything they were doing, which was particularly exhausting in the stifling heat. Our thanks also need to go to our support staff, especially control staff who were experiencing unprecedented level of calls.

“Thankfully no one has yet died from the fires across the country yesterday, but it so easily could have been a different story today.”

He is urging people to be vigilant and to phone fire on 999 if they see anyone using a barbeque in open areas; or causing any other anti-social behaviour.

“We are all aware now that these things are dangerous and so there is no longer an excuse to be using barbeques – especially disposable ones – out in the open countryside where they could spark a fire. They are banned on moorlands already and you will be prosecuted if seen using one.”

Yesterday DCFO Walton, whose partner Becky works as a control supervisor for WYFRS, posted his thoughts on his Twitter feed last night (which can be viewed here). Here he added the true story of today will not become clear until incidents are debriefed, call and incident numbers are reconciled, and tales from incidents are recounted. 

He posted: “Fire crews were going from one incident to the next, to the next…it has been brutal. I’ve never known so many major incidents declared at a whole FRS level at once. I lost count at one point. This is not a post about the effects of austerity on the FRS, or how hot it was in 1976, or the fact that it was just a ‘hot day’ - it’s about a peek into the future. 

“It’s about demand for fire engines and firefighters far, far outstripping the numbers that any reasonable person would expect to be available at any one time. 

“It’s about a completely and fundamentally different operating environment where fires burn with such ferocity and spread with such speed in suburban areas that you can’t stop them. We’ve seen the kind of conditions faced by international colleagues just miles from our capital city, and in towns, villages, and cities the length and breadth of the country. 

“You can’t ask your neighbouring FRS for mutual aid when they’re just a busy as you are, and so are their neighbours, and their neighbours etc.

“Your Fire and Rescue Service staff are heroes - every one of them - but they can’t work miracles. Today was about climate change, the hottest UK day on record - ever! If you don’t believe in climate change, ask a firefighter who has been on duty in the last two days what they think about it. 

“Hopefully things calm down now, and we get back to ‘normal’ but there are huge lessons to learn and big decisions to make. Support your local firefighters and be alive to what’s happened today.”