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After yesterday's fire service strike, union bosses warn more could follow
Union bosses have warned more strikes are on the way unless their pension demands are met.
Firefighters across Sussex downed tools at midday yesterday for four hours of action.
They claim plans to make them work on the frontline until the age of 60 are “unfair” and “dangerous” for the public.
However, ministers called the industrial action “unnecessary” and described their pension offer as “one of the most generous” in the public sector.
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Speaking to The Argus from the picket at Brighton’s Preston Circus Fire Station, FBU general secretaryMatt Wrack, said more strikes were in the pipeline.
He added: “I don’t want to go into any details but we will take action again.
“This is a warning shot. None of these guys want to be out but we feel it is the only way to make our voices heard.”
The long running argument surrounds changes to pensions for firefighters.
The FBU argues changes will see their members working for longer, paying more into their pensions and receive less in retirement.
It is also claimed firefighters will have to work until the age of 60 on frontline duties – or else face dismissal.
The government yesterday maintained the changes were “fair” and would still give firemen and women “one of the most generous pensions in the public sector”.
Fire minister Brandon Lewis said: “A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000-ayear pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension.
“An equivalent private sector pension pot would be worth over half-a-million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
“The firefighter pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces.”
Close to 50 firefighters and fellow union members picketed the city’s main Preston Circus station yesterday, with many hundreds of others doing the same across the county. They waved flags, handed out flyers and spoke to passers-by throughout the four hour action.
Theywere also visited by a number of well-wishers including delegates from the nearby Labour Party conference and Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.
Firefighter Steve Killick, 44, described the action as “last resort stuff”.
He said: “None of us want to be out here. But it comes to a point where we have to take a stand.
“There is a real togetherness amongus and the support from the public has been fantastic.”
He added the fear was firefighters who failed fitness tests in their 50s would be dismissed without their full pension.
“They say we should be in line with the army and police who also have a retirement age of 60. However, they both have opportunities for staff to take backroom jobs when they get older.
“There just aren’t the backroom jobs in the fire service.”
“I don’t think you will find any 60-year-old riot police or soldiers on the front line.”
Mr Wrack told The Argus the decision to strike was a popular one within the union with nearly 80% voting for action.
Car horns sounded in support throughout the four hours.
A poll on The Argus website yesterday revealed 55% of you support the strike.
Forty-one per cent said they were against the action and 3% said they were unsure.
Shoppers in Asda, Hollingbury, yesterday gave a similar response.
Margaret Lindsay, 44, summed up the general feeling. She said: “If anyone deserves to be able to take an early retirement with a good pension, it’s people like firefighters who risk their lives to help others.”
Dean Clarke, 52, who has been a firefighter for 22 years, said it was also a matter of public safety.
He said: “There should quite rightly be fitness tests and if we fail them then so be it.
“The public don’t want to see clapped-out 60-year-olds comingup the ladder to rescue them.
“We don’t want much. We didn’t join up to get rich. We just want an assurance we will be OK when we retire.”
Therewere a fewminor call-outs for the contingency crews to deal with during the four-hour strike.
A reserve crew from Brighton was sent out to deal with the A23 bus fire near Pyecombe (today’s front page).
The 999 call came in just three minutes before the end of the planned industrial action.
‘It’s a tough job and it takes its toll’
Dean Clarke considers himself to be one of the fittest members of the Preston Circus crew.
However, now approaching 52, he is starting to feel the effects of age.
“I’m not as fit as I used to be, that’s for sure.
“This is a tough, physical job and it starts to take its toll.
“I am worried about where I’ll be in ten years’ time.”
The father-of-two, who lives in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, joined the service 22 years ago.
Since then he has risked his life on a near weekly basis and is in line to receive a special bravery award from the coroner.
He added: “I took a pay cut to join the service, but I knew I would have the job until retirement and a decent pension. That’s no longer certain.
“It’s an incredibly physically demanding job and it takes its toll on your joints.
“There’s also the mental side, which people don’t think about.
“I’ve seen some horrendous things in my 22 years – things I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.
“I can recall them and play them out second by second.
“The bills don’t stop coming in when you retire, and it’s not as easy as just going out and getting another job.
“For most of us this is all we’ve ever done. This is what we’re trained for.”
‘They risk their lives to protect us’
Sylvia Aldridge almost became the headline story of the national four-hour strike yesterday.
The 53-year-old loaded her tumble dryer at 11.45am before going to clean the bathroom in her Falcon Court, Whitehawk, flat.
Minutes later she returned to find the dryer ablaze.
“There were flames everywhere. Everything was black and it blew the window out.”
She frantically called 999 and, just minutes before beginning their strike, a crew from Roedean arrived.
“If it had happened just a few minutes later it could have been a different story.
“I think it shows what an important and dangerous job they do.
“I completely support them. They don’t get much and they risk their lives to protect us.
“I’m behind them all the way.”
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