Worrying new figures reveal the North as the fire capital of the UK.
As they face planned multimillion-pound cuts, brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest hikes in fire call outs.
The latest information, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, comes as union representatives in the area warn Government bosses to stop its “slashing” of budgets or face a “bleak future”.
Cleveland topped the UK league of shame suffering a worrying 41.5% hike in recorded fires between 2012/13 and 2013/14, rising from 2,634 to 3,728.
Durham was second with a 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388, while Tyne and Wear came in fifth with a 21.1% increase, from 5,321 to 6,446.
Concerns have been raised that current Government cuts to brigades across the region can only place the public at greater risk.
It comes in the week Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) lost two engines in a bid to save cash. One was axed from Wallsend fire station in North Tyneside on Tuesday, while Swalwell in Gateshead lost a vehicle on Thursday.
Earlier this year TWF&RS unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20% of front-line posts – in a bid to save around £8m.
Union bosses today said the service was facing an uncertain future.
Dave Turner, North East brigade secretary for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), said: “It’s a very bleak and grim picture at the minute. The only answer is to stop slashing fire service budgets as we are facing a horrendous situation. We’ve already lost two engines this week.
“A lot of the work we do is not even recorded in fire statistics; work in the community, prevention work. If we are working in a much reduced financial situation, how are we going to address these matters?”
Chris Lowther, assistant chief fire officer for community safety at TWF&RS, said: “Last year we saw a 21% increase in fires we attended, this was due to a 33% increase in deliberate secondary – rubbish/grass/wheelie bin – fires and an increase in some false alarms. All other fires continued to reduce.
“The increase, as the national report says, was because there was an unusually low number of outdoor fires the previous year. This was due to a much higher than average level of rainfall.
“Over the last five years we’ve actually seen the number of fires reduce by 23% and the number of deliberate secondary fires and accidental house fires reduce by a fifth.”
Cleveland Fire Brigade announced plans earlier this year to axe 114 firefighters as part of a package of cuts to save almost £6m.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the move, which also includes the closure of a fire station in Middlesbrough, would put lives at risk.
Today, the Brigade defended their position as number one on the UK list, claiming the figures cover two very different consecutive years and are not representative of the bigger picture.
Phil Lancaster, director of community protection for the Brigade, said: “Between 2012/13, we had one of our lowest years on record, particularly when it came to grass and bush fires, known as secondary fires. Remembering back to that year, we had one of the wettest periods for more than 100 years, consequently that had a big impact on the figures.
“Skip forward a year, and we had one of the driest spring and summers since 1976.
“When you compare the two years there seems to be a stark difference, but the wider picture is much different. For the first three months of this year, the figures have reverted to a more downward trend.”
Northumberland has seen a big rise in the number of people injured in fires – from 20 in 2012/13 to 33 in 2013/14 – the highest rise in the country.
A spokeswoman for the service said: “The service has carried out a full review of performance for 2013/14.
“The national statistics of 33 fire related injuries include 11 occasions when people were given only minor first aid or advised to go to hospital for a precautionary check-up.
“When looking at the figures for England and Wales, other than the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly, Northumberland has the lowest number of non-fatal fire injuries.
“Fire related injuries for the first quarter of 2014/15 in Northumberland have reduced in comparison to 2013/14.
“The Service remains committed to improving our performance to ensure the safety of the Northumberland Community.”
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw a 35.7% rise in overall fires, just behind Cleveland.
Steve Wharton, operational delivery manager for the brigade said: “We work with partners including the Police and local authority to address areas of higher risk from secondary fires. As well as local environmental audits, fire crew patrols, school education and additional police presence in key areas, bonfire, Easter and summer fire prevention strategies are in place to mitigate the number of secondary fires. As a result of this work we have currently had approximately 35 per cent fewer fires this financial year compared to the same period last year.”
In North Yorkshire the overall number of fires increased by a more moderate 9.6% while Cumbria experienced a fall, from 1,660 incidents in 2012/13 to 1,631 in 2013/14.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 July 2014