Data reveals grim reality for fire services in England — how long might you have to wait?

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The time it takes for a to reach the scene of an incident varies widely depending on where you live in England. Overall, although the number of call-outs to fires has fallen, average response times are now far higher than they were in the past. At the end of an operationally challenging year on duty while the cost-of-living crisis raged at home, the fire and rescue service union has joined others across the public sector in balloting for strike action over pay.

In the year to March 2022, fire crews in England responded to 63,496 primary fires – the most serious incidents that are likely to harm people or damage property.

Over the past 20 years, the number of call-outs to primary fires has decreased dramatically, falling by over 60 percent according to the latest Home Office statistics.

However, over the same period, response times have increased by a third. Over the last year, it took an average eight minutes and 50 seconds for fire and rescue services to reach the scene of a primary fire.

Turn back the clock nearly 20 years and in the year ending March 2003, they did so in an average of six minutes and 38 seconds – over two minutes faster than today.

There are around 10,000 fewer firefighters in England today than a decade ago (Image: GETTY)

Commenting on the latest statistics earlier in the year, Andy Dark, assistant general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: “Until 2004, the mandatory national minimum fire cover standards meant that response times had to be fast. 

“The Government of the day scrapped them and every Government since has refused to reinstate them.

“Slow response times means more serious fires, more deaths, more injuries, more serious damage to your houses and businesses.”

Response times also vary significantly between English counties, and whether the area is predominantly urban or rural.

READ MORE: Family forced to Christmas in hotel after fire wrecks home

The fastest response time of any English county is a minute slower than a decade ago (Image: EXPRESS)

According to the latest available data, crews took longer to respond to primary fires in North Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country – taking an average of 12 minutes and 36 seconds.

This is almost four minutes slower than the national average and half a minute behind next-slowest Hereford and Worcester, at 12 minutes and one second. 

Just a decade ago, the longest average wait in the country was 10 minutes and 35 seconds – two minutes faster than today – recorded in Cornwall.

Tyne and Wear boasted the quickest fire response times in England 10 years ago, at five minutes and 38 seconds.

Nowadays, although the county retains the top spot, its average response time of six minutes and 37 seconds is a minute slower.

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Fire and rescue services took an average of 10 minutes and 46 seconds to arrive at primary fires in predominantly rural areas in the 12 months to March of this year.

In predominantly urban areas, this figure falls to seven minutes and 36 seconds.

While the number of primary fires has fallen, the total number of incidents attended by fire crews – including less serious secondary fires, traffic collisions and floods – has remained broadly unchanged over the past decade.

During this time, both the total number of staff working for fire and rescue services and the number of employed firefighters has fallen by roughly 20 percent.

Mr Dark added: “Decades of cuts have resulted in fewer firefighters, fire engines and fire stations. The Government is playing roulette with our lives and our properties.”

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack warns of a “dreadful and very serious state of affairs” (Image: GETTY)

The FBU has joined public sector employees from across the board – including nurses, railway staff, postal workers and civil servants – in balloting its members for strike action this winter. 

Last month, as annual inflation came in at 10.7 percent, the overwhelming majority of the union’s members voted to reject a five percent pay rise offer from the Government.

After an exceptionally hot and dry summer that caused a surge in the demand on fire and rescue services – the London Fire Brigade experiencing its busiest day since World War 2 on July 19 – the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) has now warned of another looming crisis this winter.

In October, the NFCC expressed concern that as the temperature drops while the cost-of-living crisis deepens, there could be an uptick in the number of accidental fires in the home as people seek alternative ways of keeping warm.

According to Home Office data, there were 940 accidental fires caused by candles in English homes in the year to March – the highest recorded total in over 10 years – roughly a third of which resulted in death or injury.