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Troops on standby for firefighter strike
6:00am Friday 13th September 2013 in Devon
TROOPS could tackle blazes in Mid Devon, Wellington and surrounding villages if firefighters go on strike later this month.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) has “contingency plans” in case of a national walkout after Fire Brigades Union members voted for industrial action over proposed changes to their pensions.
But the brigade won't train volunteer members of the public to work alongside soldiers, as planned in other areas.
The South West FBU's Tam Macfarlane said it is “very possible” members could strike across Somerset.
He said the dispute centres on Government plans to increase firefighters' retirement age from 55 to 60.
He added: “Would people want a 60- year-old coming to rescue them if their house was on fire?
“It's ridiculous expecting firefighters to work to 60 - the majority of them won't be able to meet the fitness standard at that age.
“Striking is a last resort - no firefighter wants to - but 78% of FBU members voting for industrial action shows the strength of feeling.
“We want to sort it out round the table but if the Government won't talk then striking is the only option.”
Mr Macfarlane claimed most full-time and retained firefighters in Somerset are FBU members - the Retained Fire-fighters Union and Fire Officers Association have not balloted for strike action.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service chief fire officer Lee Howell said the issue is between the FBU and the Government, although the authority has a legal duty to maintain a level of service.
He added: “We have contingency plans prepared and arrangements we'll put in place when necessary ahead of strike action.
“We'll continue to respond to 999 calls and do everything we can to keep the public safe, including during any national fire strike.”
Communities and Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis, in an open letter to firefighters, said: “Over half of all current serving firefighters will see no change in their retirement age.
“For younger and newer firefighters, your pension will still be one of the most generous in the whole of the public sector.”
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