'serious budget restrictions' caused by cuts across the fire service were creating problems
The fire service's biggest mobilisation since WWII is being undermined by shortages of equipment, staff and training, firefighters have claimed.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it was collating reports of problems from its members involved in huge numbers of rescues and wide-scale evacuations due to the floods.
The union said it was becoming clear that "serious budget restrictions" caused by cuts in central funding across the fire service were creating problems such as equipment shortages and inadequate training.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack praised staff working under difficult and unplanned-for conditions.
He said: "Firefighters are doing a fantastic job in the floods, saving lives and reducing damage done to homes and businesses, and are always proud to serve their communities during difficult times."
The union reported that firefighters have had to attend floods in gear designed for fires rather than water and that there has been a shortage of fully waterproof protective dry suits - all of which restricted their ability to respond.
Specialist vehicles designed for high water have also been in short supply and ageing and deteriorating rescue boats have been deployed.
The union also highlighted safety concerns at the failure of some fire and rescue services to include flooding in their plans for local risks.
Mr Wrack said: "A very troubling picture is emerging of understaffed operations, badly equipped firefighters and inadequate training severely hampering their work and creating greater risk for firefighters and the public.
"Although there has been improvement in equipment after firefighters raised concerns during the 2007 floods, it seems our calls for better preparation and support have not yet been adequately addressed, with unprecedented cuts severely jeopardising our ability to cope with the floods effectively."
FBU Devon and Somerset brigade secretary Bob Walker told the Star that mounting effects of climate change should spur the government into action.
He said: "The more commonly this happens the more urgent the need for proper equipment and planning becomes."
The government's chief fire and rescue adviser Peter Holland blustered that the FBU's allegations were "unfounded."