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Firefighters strike in pensions row
Firefighters in England and Wales staged a four-hour strike tonight in their long-running row with the Government over pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) mounted picket lines from 6pm to 10pm and will take action again from the same time tomorrow, with the threat of further action in the new year.
Some brigades said they were quieter than normal for a Friday evening, with many areas hit by rain, which can reduce the number of fire-related incidents.
The London Brigade had urged people to buy take-away food during the strike if they had been drinking at Christmas events to reduce the threat of kitchen fires.
FBU members have now taken strike action five times in recent months in protest at changes to pensions and their retirement age, which the union argues threatens older firefighters with losing their jobs or having reduced pensions.
General secretary Matt Wrack said: "It's now been almost two months since the Government has been willing to meet us for negotiations despite several invitations from us.
"Until they do and until they start to actually resolve the dispute, we'll keep up the pressure for the sake of public safety and our members' pensions.
"In a week when the full details of a £7,600 pay rise for MPs - which will also increase their pensions - emerged, firefighters' anger at the Government's unworkable, unaffordable and unfair proposals will be even greater.
"No firefighter wants to strike, but we cannot allow the Government's ludicrous proposals, and outright hypocrisy, to stand. We'll keep on fighting until the Government sees sense and comes back to negotiations."
The union said firefighters in their late 50s face the prospect of being sacked or seeing their pension reduced by almost half.
London Fire Brigade deployed 27 fire engines to deal with emergencies during the industrial action.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: "Once again the FBU's actions cast doubt over their claims that they are serious about reaching a negotiated settlement.
"I hosted discussions on fitness issues with the FBU and other organisations on December 4. The discussions were constructive but, whilst the consultation was still running, the FBU announced further strikes.
"Firefighters will still get one of the most generous public pension schemes. Less than a quarter of firefighters will see any change in their retirement age in 2015 and more firefighters' pensions are protected than in any other large public service workforce."
A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said: "We have stood up fire engines at 22 key locations across Manchester. We have still been able to provide emergency cover. It has affected us but we have been prepared. We have been responding to incidents as normal."
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service responded to all emergency calls received during the FBU strike.
Chief Fire and Rescue Service Officer Dave Webb said: "The plans we enacted to deal with today's strike action worked well and at no time were we fully stretched."
They deployed seven fire appliances and the small fires unit to strategic locations throughout Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland so firefighters could react to any potential calls.
A spokesman said that while the response times "were slightly longer than the public would normally expect, the Service's contingency arrangements ensured that all incidents were attended."
West Midlands Fires Service Areas Commander Paul Burnham said: "During tonight's industrial action we had 16 fire engines and one Brigade Response Vehicle available to deploy, crewed by non-striking operational staff. We also had two fire engines acting as temporary BRVs - that's with fewer crew than we'd usually have on an engine.
"Although the evening was busy, I'm pleased to say that we had no incidents involving anyone being injured.
"With another four-hour strike planned for Saturday night, we would urge people to continue being vigilant and to do all they can to stay safe - whether they're at home, at work, or out and about."
The FBU said that it received 96 calls during tonight's four-hour strike, which led to contingency fire crews going out and successfully dealing with 14 incidents. These ranged from three domestic fires to seven false alarms.