South Yorkshire firefighters protest will stretch service

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Just eight fire engines will be available for the whole of South Yorkshire should firefighters strike in a row over pensions.

Normally 27 fire appliances are available across the county at any given time, but with 90 per cent of operational firefighters – around 650 – expected to walk out if strike action is called, fire chiefs are warning residents to expect a ‘considerably depleted’ emergency service.

Around 50 ‘contingency’ firefighters have been recruited to respond to blazes and road traffic accidents during possible strikes, but bosses have placed adverts for extra volunteers. They will receive £10 an hour to train and £150 per shift worked. The contingency firefighters will also be paid £500 for every four weeks of availability after training.

Fire chiefs are also taking part in refresher courses to boost the numbers available.

They plan to have fire appliances dotted around the county, but until they know the duration of threatened strikes they will not know how many contingency firefighters will be available.

If a strike was just two hours long, all could be available, but if a 24-hour strike was called the contingency firefighters would have to spread themselves out to ensure round-the-clock cover.

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Our normal fire engine provision is to have up to 27 available from 22 stations at any given time. If the strike goes ahead we would aim to have eight fire engines to cover the whole of the county, plus four small incident units.”

Firefighters voted for national strike action last month over Government pension scheme proposals.

The Fire Brigades Union said it balloted members after two years of failed talks. The Government wants firefighters to pay more into their pension pots and to work longer, but firefighters fear they will be driven out of their jobs on ‘capability grounds’.

FBU spokesman Graham Wilkinson said: “They want us to pay more, work longer and get less at the end of it.”