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‘Recipe for disaster’: 10 EU countries cut firefighter jobs despite worsening climate crisis

A firefighter works to stop a wildfire in Gouveia, Portugal on 18 August 2022.
A firefighter works to stop a wildfire in Gouveia, Portugal on 18 August 2022. Copyright AP Photo/Joao Henriques
Copyright AP Photo/Joao Henriques
By Angela Symons
Published on Updated
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The threat of wildfires and flooding has never been greater in Europe - so why are countries cutting firefighters?

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From the Pyrenees to Tenerife, southern Europe continues to be ravaged by wildfires.

Yet as the continent burns, the number of firefighters in the EU is declining.

In 2022, there were almost 360,000 professional firefighters - 2,800 fewer than there were in 2021, according to the EU’s statistical office Eurostat.

“Cutting the number of firefighters in the midst of a climate crisis is a recipe for disaster,” says Esther Lynch, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

She fears that austerity rules due to be introduced by the EU next year could worsen the situation even further.

Which EU countries have cut the most firefighters?

10 EU member states have cut firefighter numbers in the last few years.

France reduced its firefighting force by 5,446 workers between 2021 and 2022 - the most of any EU country. It was followed by Romania, which reduced its force by 4,250, and Portugal (2,907).

Slovakia saw the biggest percentage cut, with firefighters cut by 30 per cent, followed by Bulgaria (22 per cent), Portugal (21 per cent) and Belgium (19 per cent).

Latvia, Sweden, Hungary and Germany also saw cuts.

Dangers for firefighters have risen during Europe’s hottest summer on record

Unions have urged EU countries not to neglect services that are essential to battling the effects of climate change.

“The increased fire risk caused by climate change has been clear for all to see this summer,” says Lynch. “We need to ensure our fire services have the staff and resources they need to do their life-saving work.”

The numbers do not reflect volunteer firefighters, who are further endangered by a lack of equipment and professional colleagues.

“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,” says Jan Willem Goudriaan, general secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions, which represents firefighters and other workers.

More investment is needed to support firefighters

Goudriaan says that while EU investment in much-needed firefighting equipment is “a welcome step”, more needs to be done to address urgent staffing issues.

“All countries should be investing in their fire services and other public services to meet the increased burden that will be put on them by climate change,” he says.

Countries should also be investing in adaptation measures to reduce the risk of wildfires, such as forest management, he adds.

“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,” says Goudriaan.

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