December 4 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Firefighters across our region walked out on strike today and later called on the government to get back round the table to discuss their pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigades’ Union took to the picket lines between noon and 4pm, with every full-time station in Norfolk joining the walk-out.
Norfolk’s Fire and Rescue’s 999 service continued to operate during the strike action, and the county’s fire chief, Nigel Williams afterwards thanked the people of Norfolk for the way they responded.
During the 4-hour period the county’s fire control room took just three calls, and attended just one - a stubble fire at Hickling.
Firefighters said they were striking because the government had introduced a new law that means they must work until they are 60 before they can retire on a pension.
Most fire-fighters claim they will not be able to stay occupationally fit enough to reach the new retirement age, so they will have to either leave early with no pension, or be sacked.
Ministers said the industrial action was unnecessary and called the pension offer “generous”.
In Norwich, FBU members walked out at noon and joined picket lines at stations in Carrow, Chartwell Road, Sprowston and Earlham.
Stefan Rider, operational support officer at Carrow station, and a member of the FBU, said: “We hope the government sees from today’s action how resolute we are, and that it will enter into a meaningful discussion with us.
“On a personal basis, while I understand the need for pension reform, my issue is that the government is forcing a system on us that is not suitable.
“Even the government’s own evidence shows that it won’t be safe for the public, because four out of five current employees won’t be fit enough to continue doing the job, or to rescue people from their homes, up to the age of 60, which they want us to work to.”
Members of the FBU also gathered outside the fire station in Chartwell Road, including David Brett, who is normally based at headquarters in Hethersett, but was off-duty and joined colleagues.
He said: “The turn-out’s been good. This is a national gesture to try and get the government round the table to talk to us about the pension offer.
“It’s not about more money. It’s about maintaining the terms and conditions everybody signed up to when they joined the national fire service.
“It’s about educating people who are not necessarily bothered about firefighters’ pensions, and maybe just focused on their own livelihoods in this difficult economic climate.
“I don’t think anybody - firefighters or the public - wants 60-year-olds to be responding to fires and trying to save lives. The government’s evidence suggests that the fitness levels required will be very challenging for 55-year-olds to achieve, and then will be even harder to maintain. And the challenges for female firefighters will be even harder.”
Placard-waving firefighters at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston also joined the strike with all of the crews – full-time and retained - taking part meaning all four fire engines were unavailable from 12pm to 4pm.
Alan Jaye, crew manager at Gorleston and Earlham, said the action was “unfortunate” and “the last line of resort,” adding: “We do not want to be doing this because we are a public service and we care about our communities. But we have got to think about our futures and 60-year-old firemen going into buildings.”
Firefighters at King’s Lynn fire station walked out at noon and formed a picket line outside, joined by colleagues from off-duty watches at the station and members of the town’s trades’ council.
Lynn firefighter Peter Greeves said support had been unanimous at the station, because proposed changes affected them all.
He said: “The government’s own report, the Williams Report, states over 66pc of firefighters aren’t going to be able to achieve a retirement age of 60.
“If you can’t do that, you will be dismissed without a pension - who would want to be in a pension scheme you can’t achieve.”
Passing drivers in Benefer Way sounded their horns as they passed the picket line.
Duncan Barrow, watch manager, USAR (urban search and rescue) at Dereham fire station, said there were five full-time members of USAR on the picket line with retained firefighters also booking themselves as unavailable in the afternoon.
He said: “We don’t want to be on strike. I went on strike before and it was very stressful, but we believe in what we are doing and are against what the government is doing to our pensions.
“There is a compromise available but they don’t seem to want to take it. We have had no negativity from the public for what we are doing and quite a bit of support from people driving past beeping their horns and waving or giving thumbs-up.”
Firefighters also staged a walk-out in Lowestoft and Phil Johnston, the town’s FBU branch secretary said: “Here at (the main) south Lowestoft fire station, 23 of us walked out from this station – the whole duty watch - and there was no-one working at this station or Lowestoft north, where the on-call crew made themselves unavailable.
“This industrial action was the last case scenario for us. It is our job to look after people – we didn’t want to walk away. But we have been backed into a corner, and so this was the last course of action.”
Andy Vingoe, FBU brigade chairman in Suffolk, said: “Every full-time station in Suffolk walked out, bar one, so it was a very good turn-out. People driving by were also very supportive. The public understands that this will put lives at risk.”
Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service was only required to respond to one 999 call during the strike, and it turned out to be a false alarm.
Strike action was supported by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, with volunteers joining firefighters on their picket lines at Sprowston, Earlham and Carrow stations to show solidarity and public support.
Afterwards, Norfolk’s chief fire officer Nigel Williams said: “I am pleased that Norfolk’s residents have been vigilant during the strike action which has meant we haven’t faced serious problems in the county and the number of calls we’ve received has been low.
“We have had a contingency plan in place which we have been working very hard on to ensure that cover has been maintained during these difficult circumstances.”
Dan Roper, cabinet member for public protection at Norfolk County Council, said: “We had a good contingency plan in place to ensure public safety but I am very pleased that in the event it hardly had to be used. It is always good news when things are uneventful for the fire and rescue Service, I would like to thank residents for their help in making sure the service had a quiet afternoon.”
Meanwhile, Suffolk’s deputy chief fire officer, Mark Hardingham said: “We operated a reduced service this afternoon, but our focus remained on protecting the people of Suffolk and those who visit our county.
“We’re pleased that there were no major incidents for our firefighters to respond to and I’d like to thank them for providing cover.”