Photo by Fabian Jones on Unsplash
(9 August 2023) New Eurostat data shows that number of firefighters has been cut in ten EU member states despite the climate crisis increasing the risk of fires, floods and other emergencies.
Between 2021 and 2022, France lost the highest number of firefighters (-5,446), followed by Romania (-4,250) and Portugal (-2,907). The biggest percentage cuts over the same period came in Slovakia (-30%), Bulgaria (-22%), Portugal (-21%) and Belgium (-19%).
There is little doubt that the cuts will have affected Europe’s readiness to deal with fires caused by the hottest summer on record. Trade unions are concerned that further cuts will be made if the EU reintroduces austerity rules in January. On top of this, firefighters and other emergency workers are facing increased retirement ages and a lack of investment in human skills.
The amount of money countries will be forced to cut from national budgets next year to meet the new rules would pay for over a million public sector workers, as shown by an ETUC study.
In a joint press release with the ETUC, Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary said:
“With July being the hottest month on record globally, and forest fires and flooding affecting many Member States, the dangers and workloads for firefighters and other emergency service workers have risen.
"The new figures reflect the experiences of our affiliates: Member States are not investing enough in the relevant equipment and staffing of professional and volunteer firefighters.
"The EU has recently invested in much needed firefighting equipment for Member States; a welcome step. However, we are disappointed that Commissioner Lenarčič, responsible for crisis management, isn’t prioritising meeting with Europe’s trade unions representing firefighters to address the urgent staffing issues. We call on him to meet and discuss jointly what can be done.
“Any action must include investment in climate adaptation measures such as forest management. This is the best preventive measure against fires, but as examples from Greece and elsewhere have demonstrated, EU-imposed austerity measures have cut funding and created far worse problems for our communities.
"We oppose any new austerity measures. The Commission should address the huge wealth inequalities first.”