Firefighters rescued record numbers of people in Northern Ireland last year, in incidents ranging from floods to chemical spills.

Non-fire rescues now outnumber fire rescues tenfold, figures show.

Nearly 1,700 people were rescued here by the fire service between April 2017 and March 2018 – equivalent to 141 a month, or nearly 32 a week.

This represents a 12% increase in rescues over the last year.

Firefighters helped more than 1,500 people from non-fire incidents, while 176 were rescued from fires.

The data was obtained by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) after Freedom of Information requests.

Jim Quinn, FBU Northern Ireland executive council member, said: “While firefighters continue to protect their communities from fires, these figures show that their role has vastly expanded. They serve a vital role responding to flooding, hazardous chemical spillages, road traffic collisions, and lift rescues.

“Firefighters are rescuing more people year on year, with non-fire incidents nearly outnumbering fire rescues tenfold. These figures show that need for firefighters in all their roles is increasing and reveal the immense value of their lifesaving work.”

Across the UK, more than 45,000 people were rescued by firefighters in the same 12 month period – nearly 38,000 people in England, around 2,500 in Wales and 3,500 in Scotland.

UK-wide rescues ran at 3,800 a month, or more than 100 every day, representing a 4% increase over the previous year.

Some 42,000 people were helped from non-fire incidents, while nearly 4,000 were rescued from fires.

General secretary Matt Wrack said the figures were a reminder of the valued service firefighters are providing in the face of budget cuts.

He added: “The Westminster Government needs to properly fund their vital role responding to flooding, hazardous chemical spillages, road traffic collisions, lift rescues and other hazardous incidents.

“Firefighters are rescuing more people year on year, yet this Tory Government continues to cut fire and rescue services to the bone.

“One in five firefighter jobs in England have been cut since 2010. It’s the hard work of firefighters that is propping up the service. These figures make it clear that fire and rescue cuts put the public at risk to more than just fires. This is a matter of public safety.”

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