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Dorset firefighters set to strike again on New Year's Eve
FIREFIGHTERS in Dorset are set to walk out on strike again today and on Friday in their ongoing dispute over pension changes.
Crews will walk out from 6.30pm until 12.30am tonight and again between 6.30am and 8.30am on Friday.
Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “Christmas is just an ordinary working time for firefighters, and our members have been on the front line dealing with storms, floods and other emergencies every day.
“None of us wanted these strikes, but firefighters on duty over the festive period don’t have much to celebrate this year as they are being priced out of their pensions and face the sack because the government’s can’t accept that 60 year old men and women can’t meet the same fitness standards as 20 year olds.
“We need to see genuine dialogue and real negotiations to resolve this dispute, so perhaps the prime minister would like to come along to visit firefighters on New Year’s Eve and hear directly why they are so angry?”
The union says most firefighters who take home approximately £1,650 a month already pay £320 or more a month into their pensions, and from April 2014 this would rise for the third year in a row to over £340 a month – £4,000 a year – with many facing a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2 per cent in 2015.
It also says that evidence suggests that at least two thirds of the current workforce could face either dismissal from the fire service or a reduction in their pensions of almost half because they are unable to maintain the fitness standards required by the fire service beyond the age of 55.
Karen Adams, Dorset FBU Secretary, said: “They have agreed to meet again early in the New Year. The point is to get back to the negotiating table. From our perspective we don’t want to go on strike and we hope something will come out of these talks.
“We’ve not met the Government since October but they did agree to meet us on Christmas Eve.
“We’re already going to concede a lot but what we cannot concede is that firefighters will have to work until they’re 60 and if they fail the fitness test they will be sacked.
“We’ve had fantastic support from the public.
“They can see that it’s about people protecting their livelihoods and we don’t think that the public wants a 60-year-old firefighter, I think people understand that.”
The union said that recent floods and storms highlighted the “valuable and wide-ranging” work that firefighters do – crews in Kent and Surrey returned to work during their Christmas strike.
Mr Wrack added: “The return of Kent and Surrey firefighters to work on Christmas Eve makes a mockery of claims made by a tiny minority of commentators that striking firefighters are ‘irresponsible’.
“Firefighters do not want to place the public at risk, and support on the picket lines suggests that the public understands that we cannot stand by and let this pension theft continue.
“It’s time the government came back with a realistic offer instead of the unworkable proposals they continue to peddle.”
Dorset Fire and Rescue Services will be providing a reduced emergency response service during the strike.
Darran Gunter, Chief Fire Officer, said: “While the industrial action is ongoing we will still be responding to 999 calls, but we are asking members of the public to take extra steps during the festive period, to reduce the risk of a fire breaking out in their home.
“At this time of year, the home can be full of fire hazards from decorations to cooking.
“The best advice we can give is for everyone to ensure they have a smoke alarm in their home and to check the battery is working at least once a week. Smoke detectors provide an early warning of a fire and can give occupants vital extra minutes to escape, especially at night. But a smoke alarm can only save your life if it is working and the battery is checked regularly.
“With family and friends visiting your home over the festive season too, it’s really important to ensure everyone knows how to escape in the event of a fire. Having an escape plan and making sure everyone staying in the house knows it might not be the most interesting topic of conversation this Christmas, but it could save lives.”
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have reminded residents to take extra care during their New Year's Eve celebrations tonight.
Assistant Chief Officer Bob Ratcliffe said: "We want everyone to have a fantastic New Year’s Eve but we also want the night to pass safely and for people to remember that there will be fewer firefighters and vehicles available to us during this strike period.”
He said: "We would reassure the public that if they call 999 during the strike hours, we will respond - but the response may have to come from further away and therefore may take a little longer to get there.
"To help all of us, please only consider picking up the phone in a genuine emergency so we can make full use of the resources available to us."
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