Firefighters may strike over job cuts
FIRE chiefs have said strike action has not been ruled out after plans to axe 12 jobs in Suffolk were confirmed.Members of the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) are outraged the 12 full-time positions in Bury St Edmunds will be lost and fear the cuts will lead to a drop in public safety.
FIRE chiefs have said strike action has not been ruled out after plans to axe 12 jobs in Suffolk were confirmed.
Members of the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) are outraged the 12 full-time positions in Bury St Edmunds will be lost and fear the cuts will lead to a drop in public safety.
The losses, which are part of the Integrated Risk Management Plan 2005 (IRMP), were confirmed at a Suffolk County Council meeting at Endeavour House in Ipswich yesterday.
A group of around 20 firefighters from both Ipswich and Bury turned up to protest about the cuts and to express their concern.
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Steve Brinkley, secretary of Suffolk's FBU, said: “This loss represents 6% of the full time firefighter establishment (staff who can go out on emergency calls).
“We will be writing to all our members to ask them to take part in a survey to see what they want to do next.
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“We are also going to meet all FBU members individually over the next month and will make a decision about what action to take at our next meeting on April 29.
“The members are very angry. We will conduct the survey to find out feelings but at this stage we are not ruling out strike action.”
Ten crew members used to staff each shift, or 'watch' as they are known, but this will come down to seven - which will have knock on effects for the whole county, said Mr Brinkley.
“This will affect crew levels through all of Suffolk Fire,” he added.
“If crews are short we can normally call on other stations for support but with three less on each watch, it will have an impact on the whole county.”
Peter Monk, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for public protection, stressed the job losses would not come through forced redundancies but rather “natural wastage”, such as retirement.
“We have made the decision to stand by the plan,” he said, adding that the money saved by cutting the posts would be spent on other areas of fire safety.
Cllr Monk said there would still be a front line appliance at Bury St Edmunds but instead of being crewed by permanent staff, it would be crewed by retained fire fighters.
This decision came under harsh criticism from FBU members who said the turntable ladder might now take longer to be deployed in emergencies.
Matt Hassey, Chairman of the FBU at Bury St Edmunds, said he was concerned the job cuts would create delays in answering 999 calls.
“At the moment, the turn table ladder leaves immediately (in response to a call) but that won't happen now,” he added.
He said he felt the plans “put the cart before the horse” and in response to the proposed increase in retained fire fighters in rural areas, added: “They are relying on something they haven't actually got yet.”
Cllr Monk said he was “still comfortable with the decision” to implement the IRMP plans but agreed the cuts would lead to a delay in response times for the turntable ladder.
The IRMP also includes plans to begin water rescues, as well as a pilot scheme in Lowestoft where firefighters will be trained and equipped to keep heart attack victims alive when ambulances cannot immediately get to the scene.
The next FBU meeting will take place in Lowestoft at the end of April, where strike action may be called in response to yesterday's job losses.