Essex will be ‘depleted’ of firefighters during London strikes

ESSEX could be left without sufficient emergency cover if the county’s firefighters are called to respond to over-the-border incidents while London crews are on strike, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned.

Adrian Clarke, regional secretary of the FBU in the East of England, said Essex could be “depleted” of its fire-fighting resources on the traditionally busy Bonfire Night if crews have to respond to emergencies outside of the county.

Mr Clarke warned: “We also have some very real health and safety concerns for the Essex firefighters if they have to provide cover across the border while normal cover is not in place.

“If they have to attend an incident which escalates then they will be left without any back-up.”

London Fire Brigade has planned an eight-hour strike today and a 48-hour walkout starting on Bonfire Night in a row over changes to firefighters’ shifts.

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Mr Clarke said Essex firefighters had called for a ballot over the issue and would refuse to cross the border if a vote showed there was support for industrial action.

Chiefs at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service have hit back at the union, saying they will not “stand by and let people die” if the London strikes go ahead. Essex’s deputy chief fire officer Adam Eckley said the service would honour its long-standing arrangements to assist at incidents a few miles over the border when lives are at risk, such as fires or road accidents.

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He said they were not asking Essex firefighters to do anything they would not ordinarily do.

“I am convinced none of them would support action that effectively asks us to stand by and watch people die,” he said.

“Speaking to our own staff after the first strike in London at the weekend, many of them have been unhappy with the bullying tactics employed by the FBU in London.”

“I am certain that at such a difficult time they will not be hoodwinked into a ballot that calls for increased industrial action in Essex at a time when they are already being financially penalised during our own ongoing dispute.”

He added that over-the-border incidents at places such as Chigwell, Rainham and on parts of the M25 were relatively few and far between. Should they occur during the London strikes, the service had put in place contingency arrangements to safeguard its crews.

The strike today will run from 10am to 6pm, involving 5,500 firefighters and 111 fire stations.

London Fire Brigade wants to change the current 15-hour night shift and nine-hour day shift to provide a longer day shift, saying that firefighters will continue to work two day shifts followed by two night shifts then have four days off.

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