Firefighters and the Environment
The firefighter role has certainly expanded in recent years, with modern firefighters having a bigger range of duties than ever before. This has not only included firefighters going above and beyond supporting the fight against Covid-19, but also one of the other major threats to our civilisation – climate change.
Firefighters around the world are on the front line when it comes to global warming, dealing with the catastrophic events that occur as a result of the planet heating up. This is just as much of an issue in the UK as elsewhere, with firefighters dealing with winter wildfires and summer flooding on a scale that has never been seen before, with incident levels continuing to rise.
So what practical measures is the UK Fire Service taking to help battle climate change, and to show positive progress when it comes to firefighters and the environment?
Environmentally Friendly Policies
Let’s take a closer look at firefighters and the environment, and the steps that some UK FRSs are currently taking.
London Fire Brigade
LFB have committed to a zero emission fleet by 2050, part of a larger plan to cut CO2 emissions by 60% by 2025. The FRS describe their approach to their consumption of resources and generation of waste as ‘circular’ – a sustainable circular economy involves promoting and using products that last and that can be reused, repaired and re-manufactured.
Fires themselves have a significant impact to people, places and planet, so for LFB, working on prevention of fires is critical – a large part of this includes educating and assisting the community through things like talks and events, home safety checks and free fire alarm installations. The Service also aim to better protect the natural environment in the way they fight fires where possible.
Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and the Environment Agency have worked collaboratively to create a framework that all UK Fire and Rescue services can adhere to when it comes to firefighting foam.
This includes looking at low-toxicity and fluorine-free foams, and evaluating the use of the lowest possible volumes of these substances where foam or powder is needed to fight fires. The establishment of this framework means that suppliers also know environmental criteria, and this will help influence the design of any new products.
Greater Manchester FRS & Avon FRS
The GMFRS Sustainability Strategy outlines an overall target of being carbon positive by 2050 and eventually moving beyond net zero. This is going well to date – by April in 2019, the FRS had achieved a 45% reduction in carbon emissions from the baseline they set in 2008/09.
Avon FRS currently has a target to reduce carbon emissions from its sites and operations by 50% by 2020 and 65% by 2030. Again, progress has been positive – by 2018/19, the FRS had already exceeded the 2020 target so it is now currently considering a net zero emissions target by 2030 in line with other local authorities in the Service area.
Firefighters and the Environment – Strategies in General
These have just been a few examples of what FRSs around the UK are doing to fight climate change. In general, the UK fire service as a whole is looking into options like:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by looking into energy-reducing technologies and procedures. This includes where possible, switching to renewable energy sources for electricity, heating and transport. It also involves exchanging combustion engines for electrical motors where this can feasibly be done, for vehicles, pumps, ladders and so on.
- Switching to renewable energy to power fire stations, heating, and vehicles, and installing charging stations powered by solar panels and batteries.
- Promoting the use of public transport and cycling to work where feasible.
- Designing, building, operating and maintaining fire stations according to the latest environmental design standards, as well as planning the early replacement of old energy-intensive fire stations with newer low-energy stations.
- Reducing water by buffering rainwater collected from roofs and pools for use, or using (where possible) grey water and desalinated water as a buffer in the firewater system. In the station this will include developing strategies to reduce water usage for non-firefighting purposes, like the washing of PPE and clothing, showering, and cooking.
- Using sustainable alternatives to reduce the carbon footprint of food and clothing, including promoting plant-based diets and looking into sustainable clothing options.
- Increasing the use of online assessments for recruitment and promotion, and offering materials in digital formats. This reduces the need to travel to interviews and assessments, and also reduces the amount of paper used in these processes.
The environmental commitments, plans and strategies may differ slightly from FRS to FRS as the circumstances and priorities in each area may differ slightly.
However, it’s important to have an awareness of the UK Fire Service commitment to sustainability, particularly if you are thinking of applying for a firefighter role or a promotion. A positive attitude towards this, and to the Diversity and Inclusion commitments of the Fire Service is something that’s essential to success in the recruitment or promotional process.