Fire chief calls for truce

ESSEX fire chiefs have called for a truce in a long-running stalemate with unions over cuts to frontline services.

They told Essex Fire Brigades Union (EFBU) to end the “pointless trade disputes” and come back to the negotiation table with a “new direction and spirit of co-operation.”

It comes just weeks before a crucial decision on how Essex County Fire & Rescue Service (ECFRS) will make more than �10m of savings, which could see fire fighters made redundant.

David Johnson, ECFRS’ chief fire officer. said: “I think it’s clear now for everyone to see that we need to end the pointless trade disputes in Essex and get back round the table, working together to deal with the pressures we are under while retaining the best that is ECFRS.

“This is an opportunity for both sides to put the past behind us and move on beyond the current stalemate.”

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Mick Rogers, EFBU’s newly-appointed secretary, said: “It’s no secret that the biggest cost to Essex fire service is the wage bill so when you have to save that sort of money it does cause genuine concern.”

Mr Johnson, ECFRS’ chief fire officer, said although he couldn’t make any guarantees his overriding objective was to avoid compulsory redundancies to the frontline.

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Those words were welcomed by Mr Rogers but he said there was still major concerns about how changes to frontline services, such as the decision to stop crews responding to automatic fire alarms at commercial premises.

He said: “We have got major concerns about that but we have never had consultation about it.

“A fire alarm is not a false alarm until someone, a firefighter, has been out there and called it a false alarm.

“These are the decisions we want to be involved with and, although I’ve only took up my post a week ago, things still seem to be going through without the EFBU and that needs to change.”

But the service said 97 per cent of calls to automatic fire alarms were false and that it would allow them to focus their resources elsewhere.

Mr Johnson said: “I am sure that home owners and businesses would rather our fire crews and appliances are ready to respond to their real emergencies, rather than them not being available because they are sitting outside factories or offices dealing with yet another of the thousands of false alarms that the service gets on a yearly basis.”

Essex Fire Authorty will meet on December 8 to discuss how the service can meet its �10m saving requirement.

Mr Johnson added: “I cannot guarantee that there won’t be fewer firefighters in the future.

“But what I am able to promise is that my overriding objective as we work through the next couple of weeks will be to guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies on the frontline and I will do everything possible to ensure that those firefighters working for us today, who want to be working for us in four years time, will have a job to do.”

The 15-month dispute over conditions has seen union members refuse to work overtime or cover staff shortages.

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