Further talks in firefighters dispute

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Firefighters were in talks with their brigade today following a day of strike action in which three picketers were hurt when they were hit by vehicles.

More than 5,000 staff walked out yesterday in a row over new contracts, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said.

The eight-hour stoppage in London was held in protest at "mass sackings threatened by the end of the month", the union said.

The strike, which saw senior officers walk out alongside rank-and-file staff, followed the collapse of 11th-hour talks between the union and London's fire brigade.

They were meeting across the table again today, this time at the London Fire Brigade (LFB) headquarters in Southwark.

Members of the FBU stopped work from 10am yesterday, forcing the capital's brigade to hire contract staff to provide cover.

One of the striking firefighters was hit by a car in Croydon and taken by air ambulance to St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London, where his condition was not thought to be life-threatening.

It is understood he has injuries to his spine and spleen, according to the union.

FBU president Mick Shaw witnessed the incident, which happened at around 3.30pm.

He said: "A fire engine returned from an incident and drove into the fire station, its crew refusing to wind down their windows and talk to the pickets. But at least it drove slowly, at the brigade maximum of five mph, so that the pickets could get out of the way before they were mown down.

"It was followed by a car driven by the officers, and as the pickets tried to talk to the driver of the car, it accelerated suddenly and one of the striking firefighters was thrown up and into the windscreen, then several feet in front of the car.

"We asked the AssetCo employees who had control of our fire station for the first aid kit and some blankets, but they would not give them to us despite the obviously serious nature of the injuries.

"An ambulance was called at once, and the ambulance crew asked for an air ambulance."

The driver of the vehicle was arrested.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We are investigating a collision between a car and a male pedestrian in Old Town, Croydon, at 3.25pm.

"One man has been arrested in connection with the incident."

Two more striking firefighters were hit by fire engines in separate incidents at Southwark fire station later, the union said.

Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for the London region, was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs.

A Met Police spokesman said: "We are investigating a collision between a fire engine and a pedestrian on Southwark Bridge Road at about 9pm.

"The pedestrian was taken to hospital. His injuries are described as minor.

"One arrest has been made in connection with the incident."

The other injured firefighter was Dagenham-based Graham Beers, who suffered a sprained and bruised hand when an engine hit his hand, the FBU said.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "The incidents happened when the FBU were picketing legally and according to police instructions, as they were required to do in the instructions the union issued to them."

Trade unionists and socialists condemned the incidents.

John McInally, national vice president of the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS), said: "The trade union movement must be united in its condemnation of these attacks and the company involved needs as a matter of urgency to be subject to a full criminal investigation."

Paula Mitchell, London regional secretary of the Socialist Party, said: "The Socialist Party is fully behind the heroic actions of the London firefighters and their defence of the capital's safety against a swingeing bullying management."

But elsewhere some firefighters were accused of using "strong-armed" tactics on the picket line.

Government sources said there had been reports of strikers taking control of Wandsworth fire station in south-west London and refusing to let staff enter.

The same thing was understood to have happened in Tottenham, north London, where barricades were erected and fire station doors were damaged, sources said.

A G4S security officer monitoring the picket at Woodside in south-west London said water had been thrown over him, while "aggressive picketing" was reported in Wembley and East Ham.

An FBU spokeswoman said she was not aware of any such incidents.

The LFB deployed emergency fire crews to fill the gap left by the striking firefighters.

Some 27 fire engines responded to 20 incidents during the day, including eight fires, they said.

The brigade claimed protesters stopped fire appliances entering some fire stations, but said this did not impact on its ability to respond to 999 calls.

London Fire Authority chairman Brian Coleman said: "This isn't about cuts to service or job losses. We can resolve this quickly, for both the sake of Londoners and firefighters."

If the union goes ahead with a two-day strike from the morning of November 5, it will include Bonfire Night and November 6 when scores of firework and bonfire displays will be held across the capital.