Firefighters to strike on bonfire night

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The Independent Online

London will be without full-time fire cover on one of the busiest nights of the year after firefighters announced a strike on Bonfire Night.

In an escalating row over new contracts, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said thousands of its members would walk out from 10am on November 5 to 9am on November 7, covering one of the fire service's busiest periods.

Fire service minister Bob Neill condemned the action, saying: "The timing of this action appears to be deliberate to cause maximum risk to Londoners.

"This walkout is reckless and cynical and does no credit to the fire service.

"The public will not think this is a responsible way of conducting industrial action. I thought this kind of old fashioned militant muscle flexing was a thing of the past."

Last night's announcement follows an eight-hour stoppage on Saturday and plans for another eight-hour strike next Monday, November 1, with the union claiming that firefighters were being threatened with the sack if they did not agree to new shift patterns.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "We do not want to take this action but we have no choice. The alternative is to allow London's firefighters to become doormats for their employers to walk on.

"The long-term safety of Londoners depends on a well-trained, self-confident firefighting force. The chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman, issues calculated insults and says he's relaxed and sacking all of them.

"He and the (London Fire) commissioner Ron Dobson want to run the London Fire Brigade as though it were a Victorian mill. They want a frightened and obedient firefighting force. We simply cannot accept that.

"There's still nearly two weeks for the London Fire Brigade to get this right. Show a little respect for your firefighters. Meet their representatives and hammer out a compromise with us, instead of trying to get your way by bullying."

Contingency plans were put into place to deal with Saturday's strike, with contract staff manning 27 fire engines instead of the usual 150 in place across the capital.

The brigade said the replacement crews responded to 49 incidents during the strike including several fires in residential buildings all of which were successfully dealt with.

A war of words erupted between union leaders and the brigade over allegations of intimidation and violence against crews standing in for the strikers.

The brigade claimed there were a number of incidents including a hit and run, with three motorbikes surrounding one fire engine, that left the vehicle damaged. It was also claimed staff were followed and threatened on all 27 fire engines and said barricades were placed across at least one station entrance preventing fire engines from getting in and out.

Mr Wrack said the accusations were "totally unfounded", insisting the strike was "orderly, disciplined and solid".

Mr Coleman said: "What sort of union orders its firefighters to go on strike over bonfire night? The emergency fire cover did what we expected it to do the first day, and will do so again."

Mr Dobson added: "It is very disappointing that even before the first strike dates have taken place we are facing new threats.

"The harassment, intimidation and violence that occurred during the first FBU strike to emergency fire crews shows that there is a small mindless minority of people hell-bent on trying to sabotage work that is done to reduce the risk from fire and save lives.

"I would rather we resolve the dispute, but if the next strike goes ahead, I hope protesting is more peaceful and will not impact on the contracted service we need to provide."