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Why our firefighters claim 40% pay rise

PUBLISHED: 12:03 04 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:34 03 March 2010

On the day Suffolk firefighters stood down from unofficial strike action, one lifesaver tells why he believes he and his colleagues are worth a 40 per cent pay rise.

On the day Suffolk firefighters stood down from unofficial strike action, one lifesaver told why he believes he and his colleagues are worth a 40 per cent pay rise.

Every day firefighter Chris Willis puts his life on the line in the name of duty.

As part of Ipswich's Red Watch the 25-year-old takes pride in his job but feels he is being let down by a government which is refusing to recognise the dedication and risk involved.

As the threat of strike action looms ominously over the fire service, Chris Willis and his wife talk to the Evening Star about his experiences and why firefighters deserve a better deal.

"As soon as the bell goes we never know what we may be going to," said Chris with the kind of matter of fact air of someone used to dealing with emergency.

"It could be anywhere and our job is to minimise danger and keep the public safe. From road accidents to national disasters we have to be ready to act."

"Of course I am affected by the job but you try not to let it get to you. There is a lot unseen in our job. Some people do take it home with them and others suffer from stress. We try to deal with things through laughter and we try to organise things together for the whole watch," he added.

The example shows their job is intense and highly skilled. Unlike many other jobs they deal in lives and not paperwork.

When he talks about the threat of strike action, Chris makes it clear that no one wants this and that they have done everything in their power to avoid it.

"All we want is for the government to tell us what we are worth," he said.

"At the end of the day no one wants to strike but we all feel the money we get does not reflect the months of training and on the job training we have to go through. When people call on the fire service they know they will get highly trained individuals who are willing to risk their lives. When you join the job the last thing on your mind is the money but soon it becomes a reality."

According to his wife Rebecca, the job does not just affect the firefighter.

She said: "This will be our first Christmas together in four years and the shift patterns they work means we often do not see each other for days. "When we were first together I was always worrying but soon you begin to realise that they will come home after a night shift.

"But no matter how skilled they are disasters will always happen. No one could have been prepared for September 11 but the firefighters had to go in," said the 23-year-old.

Chris has been in the fire service for almost four years. He worked as a hod carrier before joining and took a pay cut to fulfil his ambition. He has even taken on a part-time window cleaning round to help out financially.

"It is very hard to get in to the brigade and I tried for nearly four years because it was my childhood dream. Strike action is a last resort.

"I could earn more as a hod carrier. Both are hard jobs but in the fire service you literally put your life on the line," he added.

Suffolk firefighters stood down from unofficial strike action today, after working to rule since 2pm on Monday afternoon.

For 43 hours crews had been answering emergency calls only in protest at not being offered the 39 per cent pay rise they are seeking.

Paul Woolstenholmes, Suffolk county secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said: "We stood down the unofficial protest of working to rule at 9am this morning. We were working to rule - just attending 999 calls and not doing anything such as drilling or community service. We believe people sense our frustration and genuine anger so have stood down as a goodwill gesture."

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Despite the working to rule, crews working to rule were kept busy last night with a spate of emergency calls across Suffolk.

Firefighters were called to two separate combine harvester fires, one in Hasketon and one at Kettleburgh Hall, Kettleburgh.

Crews were also called to another a heath fire on Rushmere Heath at 5.15pm, following on from a much larger fire at a similar time on Monday. They also attended a rubbish fire at 8pm in a drain on Silent Street, Ipswich.

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