Firefighters may strike over shake-up

FIRE crews in the county may take strike action if their "extreme concerns" over a proposed shake-up of the service are not listened to.The Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) confirmed last night they were considering the move if the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for 2005/6 is given the go-ahead unchanged.

FIRE crews in the county may take strike action if their "extreme concerns" over a proposed shake-up of the service are not listened to.

The Suffolk Fire Brigades Union (FBU) confirmed last night they were considering the move if the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) for 2005/6 is given the go-ahead unchanged.

Carl Francis, the union's IRMP co-ordinator, said staff across the county felt "very frustrated" and angry about the plan.

He added the feeling was strongest in Bury St Edmunds, which could lose half the number of staff - 12 posts - dedicated to manning the turntable ladder, under the shake-up.


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"The branch at Bury St Edmunds has voted to have a ballot for strike action if these cuts occur. Other branches in Suffolk are broadly in support," he said.

"At this stage there is support on a national level to allow us to undertake that ballot if the cuts go ahead.

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"Lots of Fire Brigades Union groups and different counties in the East of England are looking at taking this sort of action."

Mr Francis, who has been an officer for 20 years and a station commander for 10 years, claimed Suffolk County Council's risk management plan - A Safer Suffolk - masked cutbacks as well as "ill-researched" and "dangerous" changes.

He said: "The fire authority states it is for 'A Safer Suffolk'. It is our extreme concern that it simply misrepresents what the plan is about.

"The plan aims to make numerous cuts with few suggestions about how to improve the service. We believe it is flawed. Everybody knows there are cuts. It is a dishonest representation of the plan."

He added: "They are reducing the quality of service to the community of Suffolk but it will cost the same amount of money.

"There is a feeling of disbelief within the organisation. It is a complex process and this fire authority is using the IRMP to hide behind while making cuts. We are simply not being listened to."

Mr Francis said the county's FBU was fully supportive of modernisation but it objected to staff cutbacks, which he claimed represented an approximate 5% reduction in the whole-time fire service.

He said it could not afford to lose staff when it had to legally take on extra responsibilities and the arrangements for manning the turntable ladder were "flawed and unreliable".

The Suffolk FBU claims there would be less appliance availability, with the plan aiming to loose the secondary appliance at retained stations and reduce the use of the aerial and rescue appliances.

Mr Francis said businesses, buildings and firefighters would be put at risk of larger fires if engines were not mobilised as much to automatic fire alarms.

The union believes the service would be less able to deliver vital community fire safety work without the 12 posts at Bury St Edmunds to carry it out.

It also claims the changes in the plan have not been researched adequately or risk assessed, with safety being built around assumption.

Peter Monk, county councillor with portfolio for public protection, said it decided to invest £500,000 to help maintain fire service staffing levels.

He said it was "utter nonsense" that the Suffolk FBU was not being listened to and accused it of pre-empting the consultation process.

"The FBU are there to look after the interests of its members," he said. "We have the responsibility to the people of Suffolk.

"We listen to them as well as their views are important. We do enormous research on this - it is not pulled out of the air."

The plan is due to go to the council's executive committee in April.

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