Page last updated at 04:01 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 05:01 UK

Flood areas 'lack rescue crews'

Flooded street
A review into the response to the 2007 floods is expected within months

Parts of the UK have a shortage of trained flood rescue crews, figures compiled by the Chief Fire Officer's Association reveal.

The CFOA says crews barely coped with UK floods last summer, when Yorkshire and Gloucestershire were worst hit.

In England and Wales there is no legal obligation to rescue flood victims, but the CFOA wants it to be the legal duty of all fire and rescue services.

The Environment Agency is calling for a "national effort" to tackle flooding.

Sir Michael Pitt, who is leading a government review into flooding response, is expected to make recommendations about rescue provision when he publishes his report later this year.

We have a moral obligation to help people
Toby Kempton

Under the current system, teams from neighbouring areas tend to help out on an ad hoc basis.

Some fire authorities have invested in training, but others have not.

In the West Midlands, Wales and north-west England there are dozens of specialist teams, but in the south-east England and East Anglia there are very few locally based rescue crews.

Additional back-up is provided by highly trained volunteers from organisation such as the RNLI, Rapid UK & SARA (the Severn Area Rescue Association).

In Scotland, it is a statutory duty for fire and rescue services to provide this type of cover.

The Chief Fire Officer in Hereford and Worcester, Paul Hayden, who coordinates the CFOA's flood rescue deployments, said: "In one area the fire service does rescues, in another nobody does rescues and there's parts of the country where there's no rescue provision at all."

He estimates that if there were a breach of flood defences along the east coast, he would only have half the crews he would need.

'Selfless' people

He added that the problems were compounded by a division of responsibility at government level.

"We've got Defra which is responsible for floods but not rescue. We've got the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for some forms of rescue but not floods.

"We just need the tools to get on and do the job."

Last summer 3,000 people were rescued from the floods in the north of England in June and 4,000 were rescued a month later in the south of England and West Midlands.

The firefighters and volunteers who saved them found they struggled to cope.

Toby Kempton, watch manager at Evesham Fire station, in Worcestershire, said: "We found ourselves working for 30 hours.

"We tried to ask control to take us off the run to get some rest, food and dry clothes. But, unfortunately, the messages just came back, 'Persons reported, persons reported'.

"We have a moral obligation to help people. The guys were selfless and without hesitation said, 'Right we're going' and I was extremely proud of them."

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