Fire chiefs urge Government to let 'common sense prevail' to avoid further strikes

Wirral Globe: Fire crews out on strike at Birkenhead. Fire crews out on strike at Birkenhead.

FIRE chiefs are urging the Government to stop playing games and allow “common sense to prevail” if they want to avoid further walkouts over pensions and retirement age.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England and Wales staged a five-hour strike from 10am to 3pm on Sunday following five-hour and 12-hour strikes on Friday and Saturday.

Close to 700 firefighters manned picket lines at fire stations across Merseyside, including those in Wirral, but Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said there were no serious incidents during the strikes and 999 calls were answered as normal by those not part of the FBU.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Yet again firefighters have shown the strength of their anger over government attacks on their pensions and have been united in standing up for a fair, workable and affordable deal.

“It’s very disappointing that we’ve been forced to hold another three days of strikes but nothing will deflect firefighters’ resolve when the future of their families – and the fire and rescue service itself – is at stake.

“Future strikes could be avoided simply by the Government honouring current pension promises and releasing proposals for the future that reflect the discussion we’ve held over the last three years and take account of the evidence we have presented about our occupation.

“Surely it’s now time for their games to stop and common sense to prevail.”

The FBU has several concerns about the government’s current pensions proposals and maintains firefighters are having to pay higher pension contributions, face working into their late 50s and could be sacked if their fitness deteriorates as they get older.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said the deal on the table gives firefighters "one of the most generous pension schemes" in the public sector.

“The proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme,” added the spokesman.

“Nearly three-quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015.”

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service told the Globe it was called out to nine incidents during Friday’s strike, 38 incidents during Saturday’s 12-hour strike and eight incidents during Sunday’s five-hour strike.

A spokesman for the fire service said: “We maintained an emergency response during the strike, with 20 fire appliances available to attend emergencies and 999 calls.

“All of our National Resilience capabilities, including a full Urban Search and Rescue Team, were also available to respond to incidents.”

Firefighters who are not members of the FBU responded to callouts on Merseyside, but 95% of the county’s 760 firefighters – down from 1,500 a decade ago – did take part in the industrial action.

Fire chiefs are currently planning to close six stations in Merseyside – including West Kirby and Upton - and build three new ones to replace them, as part of £6.5m cuts imposed by the Government.

The move will lead to the loss of up to 100 firefighter jobs, as well as between 40 and 50 back office staff.

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