Europe cutting firefighters despite climate crisis

The number of firefighters has been cut in ten EU member states despite the climate crisis increasing the risk of fires, am analysis of new Eurostat data by the European Trade Union Confederal (ETUC) has found.

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).

The cuts will have affected Europe’s readiness to deal with fires caused by the hottest summer on record and trade unions are concerned further cuts will be made if the EU reintroduces austerity rules in January.

The amount of money countries will be forced to cut from national budgets next year to meet the new rules would pay for over 1 million public sector workers, previous ETUC research found.

  Firefighters 2021 Firefighters 2022 Actual change % change
Belgium 9,594 7,807 -1,787 -19
Bulgaria 8,138 6,370 -1,768 -22
Germany 66,690 64,869 -1,821 -3
France 44,557 39,111 -5,446 -12
Latvia 2,813 2,416 -397 -14
Hungary 10,965 10,062 -903 -8
Portugal 14,037 11,130 -2,907 -21
Romania 28,986 24,736 -4,250 -15
Slovakia 9,018 6,316 -2,702 -30
Sweden 9,755 8,910 -845 -9
EU 365,071 359.783 -5,288 -1.5

Source: Eurostat Labour Force Survey 2021 and Labour Force Survey 2022.

ETUC General Secretary Esther Lynch said:  

“Cutting the number of firefighters in the midst of a climate crisis is a recipe for disaster.

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

“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.

“But it’s clear from these figures that investment is already insufficient and I’m concerned more cuts could be on their way if the EU reintroduces austerity rules next year.

“It would mean the majority of member states would have to make cuts at the very time the EU are asking them to increase investment in the fight against climate change.

“We call on the European Commission to stop austerity 2.0 and build an economy that works for the people and the planet.”

Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary of EPSU, which represents firefighters and other public service workers, 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.”