Troops prepare to man Green Goddesses

Thousands of troops were today preparing to cover for striking firefighters after union leaders decided to press ahead with a walkout because of continuing deadlock over pay.

Thousands of troops were today preparing to cover for striking firefighters after union leaders decided to press ahead with a walkout because of continuing deadlock over pay.

Firefighters in Suffolk and across the UK were due to walk out for 24 hours at 9am, with the prospect of longer stoppages in the next few weeks.

The executive of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) confirmed the action last night after complaining that preconditions were still being placed on peace talks.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the union there was no need for industrial action which he warned would "achieve nothing".

He told MPs: "It will only make it more difficult to settle this dispute. It is damaging and it poses a danger to public safety.''

Mr Prescott insisted that the Bain report into the fire service, which recommended an 11% pay rise over two years, heavily linked to modernisation, gave the framework for a deal.

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But the union said that normal negotiations were being ruled out because of preconditions being set by fire authority employers, including commitment to the Bain proposals.

The FBU has complained that these include a 2% cut in jobs every year for the next four years, changes to the pension scheme and fewer firefighters on duty at night.

General secretary Andy Gilchrist said after yesterday's meeting of the union's executive it was "greatly disappointing'' for firefighters and control room staff that the strike was going ahead.

"We are still pressing for talks without preconditions that dictate the outcome.''

Mr Gilchrist said the union hoped to overcome the problems, adding: "All sides have to look beyond tomorrow and start setting the groundwork for a negotiated solution, one that is not based on binding preconditions.''

The union is planning two 48-hour strikes from January 28 and February 1 and is expected to call further walkouts over the next few months if an improved offer is not made.

Bernard Jenkin, MP for north Essex, troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade based in Colchester were interrupting a front line air manoeuvre and live firing exercise to go firefighting.

"In the Army they say sweat saves lives - that means the more training you do the more you reduce the risk of casualties."

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