The number of road crashes, floods, animal rescues and other incidents not involving fires has soared by 37% in the last five years, now surpassing the number of blazes attended by crews.
A “significant increase” in widespread flooding and wildfires shows that firefighters are “battling the sharp end of climate change”, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
Fire and rescue services in England attended 171,911 non-fire incidents in the year to March, now accounting for around a third of all call-outs, according to Home Office figures.
This was up 6% on the previous period (162,251), a rise of 37% compared to five years ago (125,239) and a 12% increase in a decade (153,804).
Overall, fire crews attended 557,299 incidents, 3% fewer than the previous period (576,391).
Of these, 153,957 were fires – a 16% fall compared to the previous year (182,915), driven “particularly” by a drop in the number of outdoor fires in hot weather which did not put people or property in danger, according to a report.
The number of fire deaths fell by 4% from 253 to 243 – the lowest figure in more than 30 years after 765 were recorded in 1985/86.
Crews were called out to 775 fires at high-rise blocks of flats, 6% fewer than the previous year (821). This accounted for 3% of all fires in homes, of which there were 28,447.
Non-fire call outs accounted for 31% of all incidents, compared to 23% ten years ago. Fires now account for 28% compared with 35% a decade ago. The amount of false alarms of fires remained the same at 42%.
Non-fire incidents are classed as anything other than fires and false alarms – including “flooding incidents, road traffic collisions, animal assistance” as well as suicide attempts, people being stranded, trapped, impaled and dealing with hazardous substances among others.
Some 31,080 were road crashes, with 15,526 involving floods and at least 4,459 being medical incidents as well as 1,975 rescues from water and more than 11,000 where people were stuck in lifts.
They also included 5,278 incidents where objects had to be removed from people – 3,145 of which were rings and 218 of which were handcuffs.
There were 210 call-outs for people stuck in mud and 796 incidents where a domestic animal had to be rescued from a height.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters have always taken on a range of non-fire work and can be proud of stepping up during the coronavirus pandemic, all while still responding to fires and other emergencies.
“We have seen a significant increase in flooding incidents, likely linked to the mass flooding emergencies seen across the country over winter.
“Widespread flooding in the last year and this week’s wildfires have shown that firefighters are battling the sharp end of climate change. Their work should be properly recognised with a statutory duty to respond to floods in England and the proper funding of their service.”