Concerns over Green Goddess cover

GREEN Goddesses cannot provide adequate cover in the event of a firefighter strike Suffolk fire unions have claimed.Ipswich firefighter and brigade secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigade Union, Paul Woolstenholmes has warned the public that there will not be enough cover should a strike be voted for today.

GREEN Goddesses cannot provide adequate cover in the event of a firefighter strike Suffolk fire unions have claimed.

Ipswich firefighter and brigade secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigade Union, Paul Woolstenholmes has warned the public that there will not be enough cover should a strike be voted for today.

There are 827 Green Goddesses available in the UK, manned by the army, but Mr Woolstenholmes claims that these do not carry essential cutting equipment to help in road accidents, or basic breathing apparatus, although Breathing Apparatus Rescue Teams (BARTS) are being run by the RAF.

He said: "Fire service is not going to be adequate – they (army) are not up to our professional standards.

"This is why we are adamant that it is the politicians putting lives at risk because they did not settle with us."

However Andy Allsopp, a spokesman for Suffolk Fire Service, has reassured Suffolk residents that contingency plans were in place although they were working in a very difficult situation.

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He said: "The planning has been done to provide levels of cover which we feel will be adequate during the periods of strike action.

"The contingency planning and arrangements has been very much put in place in the past few weeks and have now reached quite an advanced stage."

The union is today expected to announce a series of strike dates after announcing the result of a ballot of its 50,000 members.

Mr Woolstenholmes who yesterday travelled to London to meet City firefighters said he feels that the mood is a positive among his colleagues and believes that the strike could be imminent.

Strikes could begin in Suffolk next week and will be discontinuous – a period of work, followed by an equal period on strike – and walkouts could last up to eight days.

The FBU has rejected a four per cent pay offer and is seeking a near-40 pc rise to take salaries from £21,500 to £30,000 a year.

Strikes will lead to the ageing Green Goddesses being used to tackle fires across the UK for the first time in 25 years.

An inquiry into the fire service has been set up by the Government in a bid to head off strikes. The inquiry is expected to report in mid-December and the Government has urged the FBU not to call strikes until the findings are known.

But Mr Woolstenholmes said all of the county's 420 union members were preparing to walk out, out of a total workforce of around 650.

A spokesman for the armed forces, based in Colchester, said two regiments were undergoing training to man Green Goddesses to provide alternative emergency cover for Suffolk, the 19th Regiment Royal Artillery and the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment.

They will be stationed at army bases, working 12-hour shifts. He said it was impossible to say whether possible military action in Iraq would impact upon the number of army fire fighters available as no Government decision had yet been taken on the deployment of forces.

He also claimed the slower speed of the army fire trucks had not impeded firefighting in the past as the trucks are accompanied by police escorts.