Firefighters' vow on strike action

By Benedict O'ConnorFIREFIGHTERS have pledged to stand firm on strike action over job losses as union officials prepared to start negotiations their employers.

By Benedict O'Connor

FIREFIGHTERS have pledged to stand firm on strike action over job losses as union officials prepared to start negotiations their employers.

Crews returned to the picket lines yesterday ahead of crunch talks with Suffolk County Council bosses over a plan to cut 12 jobs at the Bury St Edmunds station.

But as union bosses prepared to face the council this afternoon, Bury St Edmunds Fire Brigades Union (FBU) branch secretary Steve Collins said members would not budge on the issue of keeping the jobs.

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“The position we are holding is the 12 jobs should remain. They are emergency response firefighters and we don't believe that cutting the staff from 40 to 28 will make Suffolk safer, as the county council claims,” he said.

When asked whether the FBU was willing to negotiate that position, he replied “No” and added: “We have tried talking to them, we have tried negotiating, but they are not listening.

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“We have got a meeting with them, but we haven't been given an agenda of what they want to talk about and until we see the agenda we will have to wait and see, but it would be nice to see the council has changed its position.”

Joanna Spicer, county council cabinet member for public protection, who called today's summit with fire union leaders, has refused to comment on whether its policy had altered.

The council has claimed only three jobs would be lost through “natural wastage” and nine other firefighters would be redeployed to provide cover at rural stations while becoming more engaged in fire prevention work.

Some of the pickets in Bury St Edmunds abandoned the three-hour strike briefly yesterday morning to come to the aid of a passer-by who collapsed.

Mr Collins said: “A woman had just signed our petition and had only got about five yards down the road when she appeared to black out and started fitting, so we left the picket line, gave her first aid and called for an ambulance.”

Twenty-four of Suffolk's 35 fire stations remained operational throughout the FBU industrial action yesterday and only two incidents were reported during this time.

At 7.36am retained firefighters from Needham Market went to a car blaze on the A1071 in Sproughton and put the flames out by 8.09am.

At 9.31am an officer from the Fire Officers Association (FOA) went to a false alarm at 24/7 Logistics in Barton Road, Bury St Edmunds.

Crews from Felixstowe, Ipswich, Normanshurst, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket, Eye, Stradbroke, Wrentham, Sudbury, Hadleigh and Lowestoft fire stations all joined yesterday's strike action.

Should both sides fail to reach a settlement today, five more walk-outs are planned for August 11 and 17 and October 3, 10, 17 and 24.

There is also a demonstration planned through the streets of Ipswich on Thursday, starting at 2pm at Princes Street at finishing at 3pm at Cornhill.

n The plight of the Bury St Edmunds firefighters has attracted international solidarity, with a message of support from counterparts as far away as Portugal.

Steve Collins said: “We have had tremendous support, especially from the public and from other branches around the country. That has been a real boost for morale.”


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