South Yorks fire chief ‘anxious’ for end to strike

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South Yorkshire’s fire chief says he breathes a ‘sigh of relief’ after strike action as he waits to hear if more is in the pipeline.

South Yorkshire’s fire chief has admitted he breathes a ‘sigh of relief’ after strike action as he waits to hear if more is in the pipeline.

James Courtney said there had been 49 walkouts in the long-running dispute over a proposed pension scheme for firefighters, where they could be sacked or face a reduced pension if they fail fitness tests as they get older.

The Fire Brigades Union has not yet confirmed whether more strikes will take place in 2015, and is understood to be negotiating after the scheme was discussed in the House of Commons earlier this month.

In South Yorkshire contingency crews are pressed into service during each period of action and were commended by Mr Courtney for stepping up when needed.

When strikes are taking place it means that the number of fire appliances available is reduced from 21 to just eight.

Mr Courtney, who stressed firefighters were within their rights to take action, said: “That is a big difference.

“I have either been on a fire appliance or in control at HQ when there is strike action, worrying about what might happen next and breathing a sigh of relief at the end of each period.”

The service is currently facing cuts of £2.8m, slightly higher than expected, next year.

By 2017 it is expected that its 700 firefighters will have been reduced to around 550 to meet the financial squeeze on the service.

Wages are the brigade’s largest cost.

And next year Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Central stations will also have moved to a new crewing system to save cash.

Mr Courtney added: “I’m anxious that the dispute is resolved as soon as possible because we’ve got enough challenges we are having to deal with.

“We worried whether there would be any action over Christmas and were relieved that there wasn’t.”

Representatives from the Fire Brigades Union could not be reached for comment.

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