Firefighters' leaders have authorised strike ballots in London, Essex, Surrey and Tyne and Wear, all of which are threatened with massive job cuts.
Senior officials at the Fire Brigades Union yesterday warned that if management proceeded with planned redundancies in the four areas, their members would vote overwhelmingly to walk out.
The news emerged yesterday as strike leaders from Merseyside continued talks with officials at the conciliation service Acas. Firefighters in the Liverpool area have staged more than 30 stoppages since last August in protest at cutbacks.
Dave Higgs, a national official of the union, said London faced "devastating" cuts with a pounds 9m reduction in the budget, which senior fire officers argue would inevitably mean loss of life. In a paper sent to the Home Secretary, London's chief fire officer has warned that the capital faces the loss of 640 fire fighters, the closure of four fire stations and the removal of 22 appliances.
More than 100 firefighters from London protested about threatened job cuts and station closures outside the Department of the Environment headquarters yesterday, handing in a 120,000 name petition. Another demonstration will be held on 22 February, when the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority meets to discuss its budget.
n Colleagues yesterday paid a silent tribute to Fleur Lombard, 21, the first woman to die in Britain's fire service. Members of her blue watch from the Speedwell fire station, Bristol, laid floral tributes on charred debris in the supermarket where she lost her life fighting a blaze and trying to see if the building was clear of customers.
The 12 men of the watch stood for a moment in silence bare-headed in the biting cold outside the main entrance of the Co-op store in Broad Street, Staple Hill.