As the sun makes its’ short-lived appearance and we all scrabble to the back of our medicine cabinets to find the Piriton, the firefighter stereotype would suggest it’s now time to roll up the t-shirt sleeves, apply the tanning oil and drag out the volleyball net.
Well not quite…
Summer (the 21st June until the 23rd September by definition) is an interesting time for a firefighter. Some may argue that owing to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the role, seasons are largely irrelevant – in the Fire and Rescue Service anything could happen at any time. This is in some respects true, however, the summer period undoubtedly brings with it a unique set of challenges and changes to everyday working.
What doesn’t change
It is a fact that the occurrence of what the FRS refer to as ‘Indoor Fires’ (dwellings, buildings other than dwellings and road vehicles) shows very little seasonality.
If we look at the occurrence of fire over the past five years in England alone we find that statistically, the largest numbers of fires occur during the summer months.
When and where are the biggest risks?
In quantifying the occurrence of fire by month we find that July ranks highest in the data with a mean average of 534 fires occurring daily. Of these fires 24.1% occurred in grassland, woodland or crops and 29.5% occurred in refuse, refuse containers or refuse sites.
Of course, being the island nation we are, a key contributory factor to the number of fires occurring in locations such as grassland and refuse sites is the weather.
Interestingly in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 recording years the month of April saw the largest occurrence of fire daily with an alarming 912 and 914 respectively. This spike coincided with a 50% dryer than usual April in 2010 and the warmest April in Central England for over 350 years in 2011.
Adapting our approach
It makes sense then that during the summer months the Community Fire Safety (CFS) work carried out by firefighters is tailored to the increase in activities synonymous with summertime and to combatting the increase of fires in the above areas.
All of the UK FRS’s have areas of greenspace within their brigade boundaries (some much more than others) and the importance of educating visitors to be mindful of their actions in such spaces are a main priority. The majority of grassland, woodland and crop fires begin due to accidental ignition from sources such as a poorly discarded cigarette or an abandoned glass bottle and unfortunately some are also started deliberately. Fires on grassland, woodland or crops often develop and spread rapidly.
This fire growth, combined with the effects of weather, and the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment makes fighting such fires extremely arduous for firefighters and relief crews are often required much sooner than at other incident types.
Because sunshine in summer is rare enough to warrant a celebration in the UK alcohol sales also increase which means as does the risk of alcohol related fires and drink driving.
Combined, these influences can lead to a seasonal peak in activity or change in the frequency of certain types of incidents attended by FRS’s.