Hampshire And Dorset Firefighters Start Bank Holiday Strikes

2 May 2014, 05:53 | Updated: 2 May 2014, 05:55

Fire crews across Hampshire and Dorset are starting a bank holiday weekend of strike action.

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members will walk out:

- Between noon and 5pm on Friday 2 May
- Between 2pm on Saturday 3 May and 2am on Sunday 4 May
- Between 10am and 3pm on Sunday 4 May.

It's part of a long-running row with the government over pensions and retirement age.

In a letter to the minister this week, Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“It is purely the failure of the government to present revised proposals that has led to these strikes. Now the government is walking away from talks. It is utterly irresponsible.

“The FBU has never walked away from discussion and our members have been patient and measured in their approach, but we will not simply stand by while government imposes a pension scheme that is totally unworkable, unaffordable, unsustainable and unfair."

Firefighters have several concerns over the government’s pensions proposals:

- The amount firefighters would be expected to pay in employee contributions. These are among the highest pension costs anywhere and are making firefighter pensions unaffordable.
- The pensions of existing firefighters are not sufficiently protected from the proposals and existing agreements are being ripped up
- Firefighters face the risk of the sack simply because their fitness declines as they get older
- Anyone who wants to or must retire after 55 faces losing almost 50% of their pension.

A Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service statement said::

'We would like to reassure the public that emergency calls will be answered and responded to during the planned industrial action by the FBU.

'We will remain in operation as usual throughout the period of industrial action and are calling for your assistance in reducing calls during that time.

'If you have an emergency dial 999 and we will we send an emergency response, but our level of response will be limited and may take longer than usual. Our response will focus on the highest risks to life.'

Hampshire's assistant chief fire officer Neil Odin said:

"We can absolutely assure everybody that if they dial 999 they will have a fire engine coming.

"When you're cooking over the weekend, if we're lucky enough to have good weather, with barbecues - please just take extra care around that. Take a moment to consider things that could go wrong."

Dorset Fire & Rescue Service is urging members of the public to take extra care at home, on the roads and whilst enjoying our outdoor spaces this bank holiday weekend.

DFRS will be providing a reduced emergency response service. We are asking for the local community to help protect themselves and their loved ones from the risks of fire.

Darran Gunter, Chief Fire Officer, said:

"While the industrial action is ongoing we will still be responding to 999 calls. Our priority will be to respond to those calls where lives may be at risk or someone needs to be rescued. If we respond to non-emergency calls then those most in need, could be at risk, so please only ring 999 if a fire engine is really needed.

"We are urging members of the public to take extra care to reduce the risk of a fire breaking out in their home or on our heathland. Fires can start for a variety of reasons, from cooking being left unattended, to electrical faults or careless disposal of cigarettes.

"The best advice we can give is for everyone to ensure they have a smoke alarm in their home and to check the battery is working at least once a week."

In addition to strikes in England and Wales, there will be a ban on voluntary overtime across England and Wales from 3pm on Sunday 4 May until noon on Friday 9 May.