Firefighters launch longest strike yet in pensions dispute

Striking firefighters outside Idle Fire Station yesterday during the 24 hour strike

Striking firefighters outside Idle Fire Station yesterday during the 24 hour strike

First published in News

FIRE chiefs said call numbers had been low in the first part of the 24 hour firefighters' strike which ended at 9am today with only a handful of incidents - including a car fire in Baildon - but a union leader said staff were "up for the fight" against pension changes.

Fire Brigades Union members nationally are striking over an unresolved dispute on pensions, which could seen contributions from firefighters rise along with an increase in retirement age.

The latest strike was the 13th stoppage since the dispute began last year and is the first time fire cover has been left in the hands of contingency fire crews for a full 24 hour hours.

Between the start of the strike at 9am and 5pm yesterday the service took 38 calls, but many of those were either false alarms or minor incidents where advice was given rather than fire crews being sent out.

Seventeen calls needed a response, with a car fire at Baildon shortly before lunchtime being the most serious incident in the Bradford area. There a total of four incidents in Bradford during the first 12 hours of the strike and about three dozen across the brigade.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said: “We sincerely appreciate the efforts that people have gone to in order to safeguard themselves and their families during this period."

Fire Brigades Union secretary David Williams said support for the strike had been strong across Bradford and the whole brigade: "They have been quite upbeat. There has been a barbecue at Odsel and I was at Illingworth when someone brought along sandwiches for the picketers. They are up for the fight and members think we are achieving something," he said.

The service is relying on a contingency fire service while professional firefighters are on strike, meaning there is a reduced number of fire engines available and the crews may be less skilled than those who would regularly attend calls.

A squad of replacement firefighters were recruited when the dispute began to escalate and they have been trained but lack the breadth of training and experience of West Yorkshire's regular crews.

They are working alongside West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service staff who are not involved in the dispute, staffing a fleet of 27 fire engines in the county.

The dispute is being negotiated nationally, but the Fire Brigades Union in Bradford have said their members have become increasingly determined to protect their position as negotiations with the Government have failed to find a solution.

So far the West Yorkshire service has had to spend more than £500,000 to provide contingency cover and the current strike, along with another planned for later in June, will push the total higher.

Members of the public are being asked to take special care in all aspects of their lives while the strikes are on, including testing smoke alarms to make sure they work, avoiding smoking in bed and to drive carefully and use seatbelts.

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