The chairman of the Fire Brigades Union in South Yorkshire has hit out at the Government for attempting to hide the impact of fire strikes on services and has called on fire chiefs to speak out.
“The Government doesn’t want people to see the real impact of the strikes – it’s all about painting a pretty picture,” Graham Wilkinson told The Star in the wake of figures which show contingency crews took 50 per cent longer to reach life-threatening incidents.
Figures obtained by The Star show fire crews took an average of six minutes and 36 seconds in South Yorkshire in 2014 to get to life-threatening incidents – but contingency crews took nine minutes, 21 seconds on average during strikes.
Incidents the service was called out to included a bonfire which was blazing ‘out of control’ and a report of a multi-occupancy house subject to attempts to start a deliberate fire, as well as several reports of cooking blazes.
The average response time outside of strike periods has also increased by 22 seconds since 2010 in South Yorkshire and 44 seconds in Sheffield – where response times are up from five minutes 25 seconds in 2010 to six minutes nine seconds in 2014.
Mr Wilkinson said he was calling on chief fire officers to speak out about the impact of strikes.
He said: “I understand that they have a job to do to provide a fire service.
“It doesn’t mean it’s a good service. But the Government doesn’t want people to realise that.
“It’s not going to be as good a service in the future as it was in the past.
“People retire and they are not always replaced. We may still give a good response time, but there will be fewer appliances turning up.”
The chairman said he is worried politics is playing a part in the row.
He added: “It’s about ‘smashing the union’. It’s about creaming resources from the public sector – but they keep giving bankers bonuses.
“Look at what’s happening across the UK. It has been resolved in Northern Ireland, and Scotland and Wales have agreed something which is beneficial to the firefighters.
“If it can be resolved there, it can be resolved in England. I think it’s quite easy to resolve.”
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said he was ‘concerned’ about public safety during the strikes and called for a solution to the dispute to be found.
He said: “I am obviously concerned, but when you have working professionals doing the job day to day who aren’t there, it is bound to have an impact.
“The Government and the FBU need to find a compromise, one that doesn’t ask firefighters to work until they are 60 in order to get their pensions.”
Read more: Danger delays in fire strikes