Cover in place for fire strike say union

AS SUFFOLK firefighters prepare to go on strike, Suffolk residents have been reassured that emergency cover is in place.Speaking today, Andy Allsopp, a spokesman for Suffolk Fire Service, reassured Suffolk residents that contingency plans involving distinctive Green Goddess military fire appliances would come into operation should an emergency situation arise during a possible strike.

AS SUFFOLK firefighters prepare to go on strike, Suffolk residents have been reassured that emergency cover is in place.

Speaking today, Andy Allsopp, a spokesman for Suffolk Fire Service, reassured Suffolk residents that contingency plans involving distinctive Green Goddess military fire appliances would come into operation should an emergency situation arise during a possible strike.

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 brigade's fight for more pay was yesterday spearheaded by Ipswich firefighter Paul Woolstenholmes.

Mr Woolstenholmes, brigade secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigades Union and operational firefighter at Princes Street, travelled to London yesterday in a Green Goddess emablazoned with Tony Blair's face to attract public support.

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

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.

He added: "We realise this is leaving Suffolk in the lurch but we all know where to lay the blame. We do not think we are asking an excessive amount for the job we do.

"We recognise that any replacement fire cover may not be adequate and we would urge people to take extra care in the home."

Steve Brinkley, brigade chairman of the Suffolk FBU, said: "We are definitely expecting an overwhelming 'yes' vote. Our employers are not prepared to move at all."

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.

In total, there are 827 Green Goddess crews available in the UK, with 10,000 crew.

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