Contingency plans were being finalised last night to deal with the first national strike by firefighters in a decade.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will walk out for four hours from noon today across England and Wales as part of a bitter dispute with the Government over pensions.
The union is campaigning against changes it claims will mean firefighters will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less in retirement.
Some brigades, such as London and Surrey, are hiring private contractors to stand in for striking firefighters, but the public has been warned that some non-emergency calls will not be answered.
The London brigade, that will only have 27 fire engines operational during the period of the strike, said calls about flooding, trapped animals and rubbish fires will not be answered.
The Government said national contingency arrangements no longer exist since Green Goddesses – manned by the army in the last strike in 2002 – were sold or donated to countries including Zambia, Paraguay and Bosnia. Instead individual brigades are now responsible for their own contingency plans.
“Many are using officers and firefighters who are not part of the FBU action,” said a spokesman for Department of Communities and Local Government. “The Government has a strategic back-up it can deploy if needed.”
Almost 80 per cent of FBU members voted in favour of industrial action in a ballot that ended earlier this month. The FBU’s general secretary Matt Wrack suggested that further action would follow.
“This initial strike is a warning shot,” he said. “Firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions.
“It is ludicrous to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late-50s: the lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered.”