Firefighters announce more strike action

By Jonathan BarnesFIREFIGHTERS have called two further strikes in their battle against job losses - a dispute that is set to cost taxpayers more than £200,000.

By Jonathan Barnes

FIREFIGHTERS have called two further strikes in their battle against job losses - a dispute that is set to cost taxpayers more than £200,000.

Members of the Suffolk's Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) will walk out at 7am today to begin industrial action in protest at cuts, which they claimed would put lives at risk.

The three-hour strike will be followed by a two-hour stoppage on Friday over a plan to axe 12 specialist jobs operating the brigade's turntable ladder at Bury St Edmunds.

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The industrial action was called last week following a ballot of the county's FBU members and fire authority bosses outlined yesterday how they would provide cover during the walk-out, including support from the military.

It is estimated that every day of industrial action will cost the authority about £50,000.

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The FBU said yesterday it was determined to fight the cuts and called two further strikes, between 7am and 10am on Monday and from 4pm and 7pm on August 11.

Joanna Spicer, Suffolk County Council cabinet member for public protection, said the FBU had not requested any talks with the fire authority after calling the industrial action.

“These strikes are very disruptive, very expensive and put a lot of pressure on a lot of people,” she said.

She believed cutting the specialist turntable ladder jobs was still “the right decision” and said it had only been required at 19 jobs last year, performing five rescues in non life-threatening situations.

The turntable ladder will be retained, but all firefighters will be trained to use the equipment.

Mrs Spicer said the total reduction in jobs would be three and that loss would come from “natural wastage”.

Nine other staff would be redeployed to give fire safety guidance to the public, to help provide cover for rural fire stations or to data analysis jobs.

Ironically, the brigade's other turntable ladder, based at Ipswich, is out of use for at least three months after suffering structural damage when an engine hit a house in Ipswich after it was involved in a road collision on its way to a fire.

Lee Howell, Chief Fire Officer and director of public protection for Suffolk County Council, said 24 of the county's 35 stations would be active as normal during the strikes. Retained firefighters are not striking and will be on duty.

Specialist RAF and Navy firefighters will be on call as back-up, based at affected stations in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.

Red fire engines will be used, rather than green goddesses, and Suffolk police will accompany them on jobs to ensure their safety.

A control room will be operating off-site away from the brigade's headquarters in Colchester Road, Ipswich, and fire control staff will take 999 calls as usual.

Mr Howell said: “We are trying to make it business as usual as much as we can. Clearly, we will be providing a minimum level of service, so we urge the public to take even greater care in their own safety.”

Vince Jell, secretary of the Suffolk FBU, said the changes would “undermine our ability to carry out rescues”.

He added: “There is no way our members wish to go on strike, but we feel we have been forced to go down this route. These cuts make our work less safe and the public less safe and they have to stop.”

Mr Jell said the cuts could lead to the turntable ladder not being available for certain jobs while there would be significant delays utilising it for other fires or road accidents.

The union also claimed the number of hours dedicated to fire prevention work would be reduced after the changes as turntable ladder operators currently had a dual role that included educating the public in fire safety.

“It's astonishing that councillors are ready to spend £50,000 a day on the Army while slashing back on fire prevention and community safety,” said Mr Jell.

Matt Wrack, the union's general secretary, added: “Suffolk are making a cut too far. These cuts will have long-term implications for years to come, making the work of fire crews less safe and the public less safe.”

n Suffolk's FBU members have called four separate strikes: today, between 7am and 10am; Friday, between 5pm and 7pm; Monday, between 7am and 10am; and August 11, between 4pm and 7pm.

n Every day of industrial action is expected to cost about £50,000, according to Suffolk County Council. Military costs are expected to be about £30,000 a day, while policing costs are estimated at £10,000 for a 24-hour period.

n Additional costs include fuel, logistical support, such as catering, and the hire of personal protective equipment for Ministry of Defence (MoD) staff.

n The cost of kitting out an estimated 60 MoD staff with the equipment is expected to be about £10,000.

n Firefighters taking industrial action will not be paid for the time they are on strike, and this money will reduce some of the cost.

n The costs of the strike will be funded from reserves, but for every 10 days of industrial action, the county council said this sum would represent an equivalent burden of about a 0.25% increase in council tax.

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