Imminent firefighter strike will be ‘toughest test to date’

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

West Yorkshire Fire Service (WYFS) will face its “toughest test to date” during the latest firefighter strike.

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 WYFS have criticised the timing of the strike - from 6pm on October 31 to 6pm on November 4 - and warning 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 WYFS Assistant Chief Fire Office Dave Walton said the service’s contingency plans would 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.

“It will be our toughest test to date so please do not under estimate the heightened risk to yourself and your family.”

The service will be providing contingency cover in the form of qualified firefighters not striking - around two per cent of current operational staff - and support will be offered by Community Response Operatives (CROs) who have undergone three weeks’ basic training in fire and rescue response. They will be supervised by senior officers at all times. 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. He encouraged people to go to organised bomfires and warned that all fire engines are fir with CCTV cameras.

Meanwhile the FBU has said the latest industrial action has been called because of the refusal from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to bring any new offer to the table over pensions, despite two months of talks.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters are incandescent following two months of negotiations which have led to no new proposals.

“Firefighters will not stand by and see our members’ pension rights destroyed by a Government which does not give a damn about the safety or wellbeing of firefighters in the long term

“The public do not want 60-year-olds tackling fires. Everyone understand the stupidity of these plans – except Government Ministers.

“We remain committed to resolving this dispute in the interests of our members and the public at large.”