Firefighters and emergency workers responding to extreme fires and flooding

banner firefighters extreme fires & floods

(27 July 2023) Fires are burning in Greece, Switzerland, Southern Italy, Algeria and other countries. Storms are hitting the north of Italy. EPSU stands in solidarity with firefighters and emergency services’ workers who are on the frontline to assist people affected. Last June, the EPSU Firefighters’ Network alerted again of the problems and urged authorities to invest in emergency services, which are currently suffering from staff shortages and the lack of equipment and PPEs.

Climate change is a reality that is making these extreme events more frequent. Larger and longer operations for firefighters inevitably imply longer shifts and higher exposure to contaminants, impacting the health and safety of those women and men. There needs to be more investment in preparedness, forest management and other adaption measures, as the Commission stressed in new guidelines presented on 26 July. The austerity measures impacting human resources, equipment, and training that have been applied to forest management services in Greece show that this is not the way.

In the last ten years, the city/region of Bordeaux has seen its professional firefighters reduced from 36 firefighters to 31, while the number of interventions rose from 13,000 a year to 18,000 a year. In the United Kingdom, there are 12,000 fewer professional firefighters than ten years ago. In Cyprus’s capital Nicosia there are now 22 firefighters, down from 29 in 1979. Italy has 2000 fewer firefighters than what is needed to intervene properly, while zones of intervention keep growing due to the lack of resources. The causes are the same: cuts in public spending are having a huge impact on the capacity to intervene in crises and to adapt to the impact of climate change.

We join the call of an active firefighter in Italy, who reacted to the news that reinforcements from other regions will be sent to help colleagues in the burning south or flooded north: “But what reinforcements? We are always the same people. We are few. With a very high average age. With worn-out PPE and equipment. And since yesterday morning, the fire brigades have received hundreds of calls. Non-stop interventions have been going on for a few days now. But does anyone want to understand that we are HUMAN BEINGS? We have neither the cape of Superman nor any kind of superpower. We are five women and men who, with the same PPE, from North to South, face the hell of fires and the violence of storms. Does anyone worry about us?

We are very appreciative of the around 500 firefighters from across Europe that assist their comrades in Greece and Tunisia. Such common efforts are important and show the solidarity of the EU and the firefighters community. It does not take away the need for all countries to invest in proper preparedness themselves as more and more countries are affected. Austerity is not the road forward. 

Recent guidelines: Building a Climate-Resilient Future: New guidelines to help EU countries update their climate adaptation strategies

"From extreme heatwaves and devastating droughts, to deadly forest fires and rising sea levels eroding coastlines, the inevitable impacts of unchecked climate change are well known and starting to manifest themselves. The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underlined the urgency to adapt to the impacts of climate change."