Safety fears as firefighters strike during Halloween and bonfire weekend over pension changes

Firefighters are going on strike across England. Photo: Andy Darnell

Firefighters are going on strike across England. Photo: Andy Darnell - Credit: Archant © 2010

Emergency fire cover across Waveney will be 'massively depleted' during this Halloween and bonfire weekend as firefighters across England hold a four-day strike over pension changes.

Crews at Lowestoft North, Lowestoft South, Beccles and Wrentham stations are planning to walk out at 6pm tonight until 6pm on Tuesday.

A Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said about 20 fire appliances would still be available to respond to emergencies across the county - but at the time of going to press could not confirm what specific cover would be available for Waveney district.

However, it is understood on-call crews at Southwold, Halesworth and Bungay would be standing by in the event of an emergency.

Phil Johnston, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) branch secretary at Lowestoft South, warned that the fire service would be 'massively depleted' during the strike.

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He said all of Suffolk's full-time fire stations would be on strike but some on-call stations would still be working because they were not part of the FBU.

However, he said that the country struggled to crew many of the on-call stations during the day because retained staff had other commitments.

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He added that Southwold, Bungay and Halesworth had covered Lowestoft during previous strike action but said that those towns would be left without cover if their crews were elsewhere.

He said: 'Considering the fact that Suffolk struggles to crew fire stations during the week at the best of times, I don't think they know how they are going to manage over four days - never mind it being Halloween or Bonfire night.'

The strike comes after failed negotiations with the government over changes to firefighters' pensions.

Under government proposals firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and ultimately get less in retirement.

Due to the rigorous fitness requirements, many firefighters are expected to be unable to work to 60 and therefore risk losing part of their pension. The FBU say the public will also be put at risk with increasing numbers of 60-year-old firefighters attending the most serious of incidents

Colin Spence, the county council's cabinet member for public protection, urged people to be extra vigilant and safety conscious during the strike period, particularly given the increased risk created by bonfire and firework events and people using candles.

He added: 'We highly recommend that families attend organised and safely managed public events and that safety advice regarding bonfire and firework safety is reviewed and followed very closely.

'In addition to bonfire and fireworks safety messages, simple common sense precautions such as testing smoke alarms, not using Chinese lanterns, keeping an eye on food cooking, driving carefully and looking out for vulnerable neighbours and friends will reduce the risk of fires and other accidents.'

999 calls will continue to be answered as normal during the strike and the nearest available fire engines sent to emergencies.

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