The fire service needs to adapt to reduce its impact on the environment.
Recent events have highlighted the impact of extreme weather on our communities. From the devastating bush fires in Australia to the flooding experienced in this country, they have all demonstrated the potential disruption we face from such events in a changing climate.
Wildfires, flooding, extreme heat and the subsequent impact on infrastructure all pose risks for the future, particularly for the work of fire and rescue services.
We have already seen that the weather can have an impact on the fire service’s work. In 2018, there was a 28 per cent increase in outdoor fires linked to the hot, dry summer, and the Whaley Bridge Dam, which started to collapse following days of heavy rain last August, led to a nationally supported and coordinated fire service response.
“Fire and rescue services will need to be dynamic in the future as risks shift and change with more extreme weather events”
These events also have a clear cost to the environment. A 2018 wildfire in northern Scotland released into the atmosphere the equivalent of six days of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions, burning for six days across 5,000 hectares.
Therefore, the fire service needs to ask how we, as a sector, are going to meet these challenges.
Fire and rescue services will need to adapt to the challenges posed by current climate change as well as try to mitigate its impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our fire prevention work will be key to this; successfully preventing fires means that we are stopping carbon dioxide entering our atmosphere. We will need to build on this work to ensure that, as we identify new risks to our communities as a result of climate change, we can develop our prevention, protection and emergency response to take account of these risks.
Climate change will also have a clear operational impact on our work. We already assess the risks facing us at a local level, and we will need to be dynamic in the future as these risks shift and change with more extreme weather events.
However, we will also need to look at our wider operations and ways of working to see how else we can seek to tackle climate change – our estates and fleet both have a key role to play in reducing our impact on the environment. Simple activities such as using LEDs and smart lighting controls, through to developing new zero-emission fire engines, can all have an effect. Several fire and rescue authorities have already undertaken these activities and are working towards targets limiting their emissions.
The LGA has produced a new document for fire services on the climate emergency, to help services to consider their role at a local level. This will be published at the LGA’s Annual Fire Conference on 10-11 March.
There will also be wider national conversations for the LGA and our partners to ensure that the sector has the resources it needs to deliver on the Government’s targets and meet the needs of our communities.
We still have a way to go as a sector, but at a national, local and individual level we all have a part to play in driving our activity on climate change forwards.