Firefighters demand action as heatwaves and droughts threaten to overwhelm Europe’s fire services 

EPSU Firefighters meeting in Stockholm June 2023

(Press Release - 22 June 2023) In the midst of a heatwave and droughts across Europe, firefighters from fifteen countries representing unions affiliated to the European Public Service Unions (EPSU) came together in Stockholm. One common message is being shared from firefighters’ organisations across Europe: fire services throughout the continent are under strain and if major changes are not enforced firefighters won’t be able to face the challenges ahead. 

In recent weeks EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič announced the doubling of the rescEU aerial firefighting fleet for this year’s wildfire season to 24 airplanes and four helicopters from ten Member States. For EPSU and its firefighters’ network this is good news - but it doesn’t come close to reflecting the magnitude of the problem. 

Europe has seen several ‘unprecedented’ years of high temperatures and droughts, placing the health and lives of firefighters in serious jeopardy. The World Meteorological Organization’s recently published State of the Climate in Europe strongly underlines the concerns of Europe’s firefighters, showing that Europe is the fastest warming region, warming twice as much as the global average since 1980. In that regard EPSU has requested a meeting with the Commissioner to clarify many issues about the much needed rescEU fleet. 

The main challenge for Europe’s forests and the impact of climate change is the lack of human resources, training and Protective Personal Equipment (PPE). The picture is similar across the continent and fires do not recognise borders. 

Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary, states “If Europe is serious about climate adaptation and mitigation, it has to stop with cuts in public services. Firefighters are a good example of investment in public services adapting to climate crises and making the difference for people and our communities.” 

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 professional firefighters fewer than there were 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 properly intervene while zones of intervention keep growing due to the lack of resources. The examples could fill many books, but the causes are the same: cuts in public spending are having a huge impact on the capacity to intervene and adapt to climate change. 

Firefighters are conscious that they are exposed to dangerous chemical and toxic substances due to the nature of their work. They therefore expect public authorities and legislators to raise to the occasion and ensure that firefighters are protected against asbestos, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, reprotoxins) and chemical dangers in a meaningful way. Fire fighters guard our forests and our cities, it is time for public authorities and politicians to protect them.


For more info Pablo Sanchez [email protected] 0032 (0) 474626633

Climate change and austerity take their toll – article from summer 2022 

EPSU report on the EU’s failure to include firefighters and emergency responders in climate change adaptation plans 

How can we protect those who protect us from the fire? – article on European Parliament firefighter hearing.