Fire strike will push ‘contingency to limit’ - but union’s ‘hands were tied’

West Yorkshire Fire Service Assistant Chief Officer Dave Walton
West Yorkshire Fire Service Assistant Chief Officer Dave Walton

Fire Brigade Union (FBU) members are set to strike for 96 hours in the run up to Bonfire Night, November 5, over pay and pension reforms.

And fire chiefs at West Yorkshire Fire Service have criticised the timing of the strike - from 6pm today to 6pm on Tuesday - and warned the public to take extra care as it will happen at one of the service’s busiest times of year.

During the same period last year WYFS was called out to nearly 300 incidents and a total of 17 people were injured.

And assistant chief fire officer Dave Walton said the service’s contingency plans will be pushed to the limit.

“We have faced numerous periods of industrial action over the last 12 months but we do not want this fact to make the public complacent,” he said. “This is the longest continuous strike we have had to cover with our contingency arrangements. Not only that, but it starts on a Friday night Halloween and coincides with our busiest time of year around the bonfire season.”

The service will be providing contingency cover in the form of non-striking firefighters - around two per cent of current operational staff - and support will be offered by Community Response Operatives who have undergone three weeks of basic training. WYFS also expects to have around half of its usual fleet of 53 engines available.

Mr Walton said the biggest problems they expect to face will be from deliberate fires, secondary fires and people attacking firefighters.

Meanwhile the FBU has said the strike has been called because of the refusal from the Westminster Government to bring any new offer to the table over pensions - despite new proposals being put forward in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The row centres on plans to raise firefighters’ retirement age from 55 to 60 and increase their pension contributions.

Paul Drinkwater, West Yorkshire FBU chairman, said: “This four day strike was called by the Fire Brigades Union in response to pensions regulations being laid in Parliament this week. The dates of the call for strike action are due to the time limits set on notifying employers of strike action.

“The Westminster Government now stands isolated as the only Government in the United Kingdom which has offered no new proposals, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all putting forward new proposals for firefighters to consider.

“No firefighter wants to take strike action as we understand fully the possible consequences of our actions. We also recognise the consequences of not standing up against a pension that will jeopardise both firefighter and public safety.

“The Governments own research has shown that many 60-year-old firefighters will not have the necessary fitness to perform their roles protecting the public and we believe that they should have access to their pensions and not be faced with dismissal under capability for failing a fitness test.

“The research showed this is even more significant for female firefighters who are sadly already hugely under represented in West Yorkshire. At a time when front line fire appliances and crews in West Yorkshire are being cut by 30 per cent it is even more vital that firefighters are fit and able to perform their duties.

“Clearly this action could have been prevented at this time as it has been most recently in Wales with new proposals being put forward within the same cost parameters.

“We are fighting for a pension that is fair, achievable and affordable.”