Strike hits stations as firefighters walk out

ON STRIKE: Firefighters in Sudbury staged a walkout yesterday.
ON STRIKE: Firefighters in Sudbury staged a walkout yesterday.

Firefighters joined a national strike yesterday, running picket lines from outside their stations.

All 21 retained firefighters in Sudbury protested outside the Gregory Street station from noon to 4pm.

On Tuesday, Roy Humphreys, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades’ Union, said other members – from Long Melford and Clare – as well as 12 union members from Hadleigh, were due to take part in the walkout.

The FBU decided to take the action in protest about members’ pensions and retirement age.

Keith Handscomb, who is regional spokesman for the union in East Anglia, said: “No firefighters want to go on strike, but the Government isn’t listening.

“Whereas firefighters in Scotland will not go on strike because they have a government that agrees, our government has got it wrong and isn’t willing to negotiate improved terms.

“Responding to terrorist attacks, flash-floods, rescuing people and their families from car, train and plane crashes – and, of course, fighting fires inside very hot, smoke-filled, burning buildings – is a dangerous, dirty and physically-demanding job.

“It’s not a job for the faint-hearted and, as the Government’s own expert evidence shows, it’s not a job firefighters can perform at the high fitness levels required up to the age of 60.

“The same expert evidence also points out that up to two-thirds of firefighters will face the sack in their late 50s as a result before they can even reach their new pension age. The whole situation is ludicrous.”

A spokesman for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it planned to operate a reduced service but had contingency plans in place to “protect the county” during the walk out.

It said around 20 of Suffolk’s 35 fire stations operated as normal yesterday, and 999 calls would be responded to with the nearest available fire appliances, crewed by non-striking staff.

Assistant chief fire officer Mark Sanderson said: “We will be operating a reduced service over the strike period, but our focus will remain on protecting the people of Suffolk and those who visit our county.”

Sudbury and Waldingfield county councillor Colin Spence, cabinet member for public protection, said: “Because of the reduced number of fire engines available, we are asking the public to be particularly careful and vigilant.

“Keeping an eye on cooking, and looking out for vulnerable neighbours and friends will reduce the risk of fires.

“When driving, we encourage people to take extra care, wear a seat belt, do not use a mobile phone and do not drive when tired or after drinking. All of these points will help reduce the risk of road collisions.”