FIREFIGHTERS went on strike across Dorset yesterday for the first of three days of planned industrial action, following the breakdown in pension negotiations with government.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) downed tools at several Dorset fire stations, including Springbourne and Poole, from midday until 5pm, as the bitter row rumbles on.
Two more walkouts are set for today, 2pm to 2am, and tomorrow, 10am to 3pm, but Dorset Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) insists it will be responding to 999 calls throughout these periods.
Karen Adams, below right, of Dorset FBU, explained the action was called after the government ended 17 weeks of negotiations by saying no new offer would be forthcoming.
Union members believe Whitehall’s plans to alter pension schemes could result in many firefighters in their late 50s being sacked.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis – who said nearly half of firefighters would not be affected by the pension reforms – describes the FBU’s action as unnecessary and damaging to firefighters’ standing with the public.
Meanwhile, Mrs Adams said: “We’ve been told by the government they are now not going to make any offer and implement the original proposals.
“From the FBU’s perspective we think they are being totally irresponsible. It is really disappointing, we thought we were finally going to get somewhere.
“Our members do not want to be taking industrial action – that is why they’ve been happy for the past 17 weeks while we have been in negotiations.
“I think Brandon Lewis just kept us talking while all the flooding was taking place across the country, but never had any intention of really resolving this dispute.”
DFRS is urging members of the public to take extra care over the bank holiday weekend.
County fire chief Darran Gunter said: “Our priority will be to respond to those calls where lives may be at risk or someone needs to be rescued.
“If we respond to non-emergency calls then those most in need could be at risk, so please only ring 999 if a fire engine is really needed.”