Fire crews go back to work after walkout 'anarchy'

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The Independent Online

Fire service cover was precariously restored to Merseyside after a second strike in three months that left every station unmanned for several hours.

Brigade leaders admitted their service was in a "state of anarchy" with only a handful of control room staff left to route emergency calls to Merseyside police after staff walked out in support of an officer suspended for allegedly running a website containing obscene racist and sexist material.

An uneasy peace was restored by early evening after a series of emergency meetings during which the brigade acquiesced to a union request that the firefighter be temporarily removed "on special leave" rather than suspended

Peter Dowd, the chairman of the Merseyside Fire Authority, said: "They are on their way back to work now. It really is regrettable that we have had this."

The brigade is still left with a sensitive investigation into the fire officer, whose suspension was seen by the local Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as a breaking of a return-to-work agreement with management that promised no recriminations after a strike in July.

Yesterday's strike demonstrates the willingness of staff to stage a rapid mass walk-out if the conclusion to the inquiry is not to the union's liking. Staff at all 26 fire stations had left their posts by early afternoon, leaving only a skeleton control room staff to refer incidents to the police.

Chief Fire Officer Malcolm Saunders was uncompromising. He said: "This is unlawful action which places the lives and safety of the people of Merseyside at risk and there is no justification for it at all."

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