The EU is witnessing a steady decline in the number of firefighters even as the region grapples with an increase in wildfires attributed to the effects of climate change.
According to the latest Eurostat report, the total count of firefighters in the EU last year stood at 360,000, marking a decline of 2,800 from the previous year’s figures.
The decline in firefighting capacity comes at a time when wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe due to the impacts of climate change, placing further stress on existing resources and capabilities.
The report highlights that among the 27 member countries, 10 nations reduced their firefighting workforce between 2021 and 2022.
The largest drops were recorded in France, Romania, Portugal, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Belgium.
France saw a significant reduction of 5,400 firefighting positions, while Romania and Portugal followed suit by slashing 4,250 and 2,907 jobs, respectively. These cuts in essential firefighting resources are raising concerns about the EU’s ability to effectively respond to escalating wildfire incidents.
However, the report also reveals a glimmer of hope in some corners of the EU. Spain managed to buck the trend by adding 617 firefighters to its ranks during the same period, while Italy also increased its firefighting personnel by 546. These proactive measures from certain member countries demonstrate the urgent need to enhance firefighting capabilities to match the growing wildfire threats.
While Brussels has taken steps to address the situation by expanding the EU’s role in disaster response and establishing a permanent fleet of firefighting aircraft, experts emphasise the importance of not only reactive measures but also proactive approaches. Preventative measures, such as active forest management and land use policies that reduce fire risks, must be prioritised to effectively curb the onset and spread of wildfires.
Esther Lynch, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said “Cutting the number of firefighters in the midst of a climate crisis is a recipe for disaster”.
She added: “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.”
It comes as several countries in the bloc have been battling wildfires this summer.
More than 1,000 firefighters are currently battling a series of wildfires in Portugal as it and neighbouring Spain experience several days of extreme summer heat, with temperatures in many areas rising above 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).
Meanwhile last month, thousands of Brits were evacuated from the Greek island of Rhodes, with families forced to walk miles in the blistering heat after it became too dangerous to stay on some parts of the popular holiday resort.