Fire union in strike warning

FURIOUS union leaders warn firefighters are likely to vote in favour of strike action over “dangerous” plans to cut frontline staff which they fear will put lives at risk.

FURIOUS union leaders warn firefighters are likely to vote in favour of strike action over “dangerous” plans to cut frontline staff which they fear will put lives at risk.

Speaking last night, Matt Hassey, Fire Brigades Union branch chairman for Bury St Edmunds, said early indications were members would take industrial action to “protect” their service on behalf of the public.

The news comes in response to Suffolk County Council's Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP), adopted in April, which rubber-stamps the loss of 12 full-time positions in the town as staff are instead used in community safety roles.

As part of the IRMP, a permanent crew will also no longer man Bury's “vital” turntable ladder, with firefighters from other appliances drafted in - a change the FBU fears will delay response times.

“Obviously we are very despondent,” said Mr Hassey. “Morale is not that great at the moment.

“Since the IRMP came out we have played a full and active part in the consultation and won the support of MPs, but it seems the management have not listened to anything we have said and are pushing along with dangerous job cuts.

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“Any cuts to frontline staff is always going to potentially put lives at risk. If we get a response wrong and these new systems do not work, then lives could be lost.”

“Professionally and morally, we are duty-bound to get a pump out as quickly as we can.

“The IRMP had the heading “Delivering a Safer Suffolk”. This is not true. We do not want to go on strike, but we will if we are forced to, to protect the service on behalf of the public and to ensure the safety of firefighters.”

The turntable ladder was “vital” during three major fires in Bury in the last 12 months, Mr Hassey added, and ensured firefighters were not required to enter dangerous buildings liable to collapse.

“The first time indication is that a yes vote for action will be returned, but we are not going to turn our backs on negotiations,” he added.

The FBU will send out ballot papers to members on July 4, with a result expected by July 25. The earliest date for industrial action would be August 1.

“We are already understaffed and only have around 40 wholetime firefighters on duty at any one time to cover a population of 675,000,” said Vince Jell, Suffolk FBU chairman. “We are also 67 retained firefighters short.

“Suffolk has one of the largest areas at risk from fires in England but we spend less on the fire service than all other fire authorities.”

The FBU says spending on the fire service in the county is already at the bottom of a list of 22 similar areas across the country, and have urged officials to rethink their plans before their hand is forced.

But a spokesman for the council said: “We are disappointed with the FBU's statement.

“The county council is committed to constantly finding ways of making Suffolk a safer place. Our proposals will deliver on that commitment.

“Any industrial action by the FBU increases risk. We will be doing all we can to protect the people of Suffolk and to avoid industrial action.”

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