Mood grim as strikers face long battle

PICKET-line optimism has been replaced by simmering anger as the fire strike reaches boiling point.The cheery smiles and waves of the first 48-hour stoppage have gone up in brazier smoke.

PICKET-line optimism has been replaced by simmering anger as the fire strike reaches boiling point.

The cheery smiles and waves of the first 48-hour stoppage have gone up in brazier smoke.

Now the reluctant radicals at Suffolk's fire stations are facing the future with a "grim determination".

Sub officer Dave Collins, who was manning the pickets at Ipswich's HQ, said: "Smiles will always be there, but there's a more sombre mood now.

"The first 48 hours was like

dipping your toe in the water and there was a lot of hope there, but a lot of that hope has gone."

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Both Mr Collins and Fire Brigades Union official Adrian Mayhew thought an agreement was coming during crunch overnight talks.

When those hopes were dashed, however, they laid the blame firmly at the door of the government.

Mr Collins said: "There was an agreement there, but when it was put before John Prescott he said the

government doesn't start work until nine.

"We work all hours – they should be prepared to as well."

Mr Collins described the pay

dispute as just one of the things for which firefighters are now fighting. He said: "People talk about 40 per cent, but pay has almost become a secondary issue now.

"The employers are talking about modernisation, but the kind of

modernisation they want would see fire services decimated.

"They want to cut fire cover at night. OK, so maybe we have less fires at night, but that's when people die.

"If there's more than one major incident in Ipswich, there won't be anyone to send – that's the way it's going."

Mr Mayhew said: "Do they want to see fire engines waiting in McDonalds' car parks waiting for a call-out? That's what will happen."

Despite agreement seeming so close overnight, both sides now seem entrenched for a long, drawn-out battle.

Mr Mayhew said: "The general feeling in Suffolk is that we're in it for the long haul.

"There are day crews in Felixstowe that are picketing the station 24 hours a day – that's how strong the feeling is."

Meanwhile, the 48-strong Green Goddess crew based at the Yarmouth Road TA centre, Ipswich were confident that they would cope.

Flight Lieutenant Alan Crossby, of 37 Squadron from RAF Wittering, said their experience during the last strike would benefit them this time.

By the time of going to press, green goddesses were called into action in Suffolk only once today – to an automatic fire alarm at the Birds Eye factory at Lowestoft which they switched off without taking any further action.

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