FIREFIGHTERS across the region are preparing to join colleagues around the country to fire a warning shot to the Government in a row over pensions.
The Fire Brigade Union has announced that next Wednesday its members will go on strike for four hours after almost 80 per cent voted in favour of industrial action.
The row is over plans to increase the age when a firefighter can retire.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades’ Union general secretary, said: “This initial strike is a warning shot to Government.
“Firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions.
“Governments in Westminster and Cardiff have simply refused to see sense on these issues.
“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.
“None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety.”
The strike will take place for four hours, between noon and 4pm.
Tyne and Wear’s Chief Fire Officer Tom Capeling said: “I have a legal duty to provide a fire and rescue service as far as is reasonably practicable, and the service has plans in place to offer a limited-response service during industrial action.
“They are based on a reduced number of appliances, strategically placed across Tyne and Wear according to risk, and the ability to maintain the best speed of response.
“Trained fire service officers and staff we have recruited and trained in recent weeks will drive and staff a number of our appliances.
“This includes recently-retired firefighters and staff the service has temporarily recruited, who were successful during our last recruitment campaign process, but for whom there were no vacancies at the time.”
According to the FBU, a recent Government review found more than half of firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness. Beyond the age of 55, two-thirds fail.
Although the Government has previously claimed that older firefighters could be moved to less physically-demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of “redeployment” opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be inevitable.
The union says firefighters pay some of the highest pension contributions in the UK public or private sector and have seen increases for two consecutive years, with the majority paying almost 13 per cent of their salary in contributions, with further increases due next year.
This will mean some firefighters face an increase six years in a row.