FIRE callouts in Dorset and Wiltshire rose to a seven-year high last year, amid a decrease in firefighter numbers over the last five years.

The Fire Brigades Union said it was deeply concerned by the significant rise in fires across England following “massive cuts” to fire and rescue services.

There were 896 full-time equivalent firefighters employed by Dorset and Wiltshire as of March 2019. This was a drop of 6% compared to 2015, when there were 957. At the same time, the number of incidents attended by the service increased by 1,717 compared to 2015 – a 14% increase, bringing the total incidents to 14,325.

The figures reflect the trend across England, where the number of incidents has risen to a five-year high. There were more than 576,000 incidents across the country in the 12 months to March, an increase of more than 16%.

The number of firefighters meanwhile has fallen by 10% since 2015, from 35,925 to 32,233.

The figures include all incidents attended by firefighters, including false alarms and non-fire related incidents such as road accidents.

Of the 14,325 calls attended by firefighters in Dorset and Wiltshire in 2018-19, 3,684 were non-fire incidents – 26% of the total.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “We are deeply concerned that, after massive cuts to fire safety officers and years of fire safety deregulation, there has been a significant increase in fires in England.

“We have warned of the impact of climate change on fire for the last decade, but the Government has failed to listen. Long, dry summers are making fires more likely, while firefighters are responding to a huge number of floods and other non-fire incidents across the country.

“Westminster has been utterly complacent about fire safety for years and it is clearly taking its toll. We urgently need to invest in fire and rescue services and to radically boost firefighter recruitment – people’s lives, homes, businesses, and communities are at stake.”

Responding to a recent parliamentary question on firefighter numbers, Kit Malthouse, the minister for crime, policing and the fire service, said he was confident fire and rescue services have the resources they need.

He continued: “Operational decisions are for each fire and rescue authority to make as part of the integrated risk management planning process, and it is for individual fire and rescue services to make decisions on the number of firefighters they employ.”

Chief Fire Officer Ben Ansell said: “As a large fire and rescue service, with 50 fire stations covering both urban and rural areas, the majority of our firefighters are on-call, with full-time firefighters in the more urban areas. Along with many other fire and rescue services in the UK, we continue to work to improve recruitment and retention of our on-call firefighters; and the number we employ can vary considerably dependent upon the cover they provide.

"The key point is that we have the same number of fire engines responding from the same fire station locations as we did in 2015.

"We have been able to achieve this through the savings we made as part of the successful combination of Dorset and Wiltshire fire and rescue services in April 2016. It is also important to understand that the figures quoted for incidents include all incident types, such as road traffic collisions, medical co-responding, rescue from height, chemical incidents, water rescue, false alarms and not just fires. However, finances remain challenging and, having already made significant efficiencies of £6m year on year since 2016, we are seeking additional funding in order to maintain, and in some cases strengthen, our prevention, protection and emergency response provision. If this funding is not forthcoming, then it is likely that we will have to make cuts that will inevitably impact on the front line."