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Safety warning ahead of fresh fire strikes
9:33am Tuesday 24th December 2013 in News
FIRE chiefs have urged people to take extra care during festive celebrations tonight because of a strike by firefighters in their bitter row with the Government over pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union in England and Wales will walk out for five hours from 7pm, followed by further stoppages on New Year's Eve and on January 3.
The union has already called six strikes since September in protest at changes to pensions and retirement age, which it warned threatened firefighters in their late 50s with being sacked.
The union placed adverts in national newspapers today accusing the Government of "attacking" pensions, "ripping up" agreements and threatening firefighters in their 50s with dismissal, "simply for getting older".
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "Firefighters provide a first class standard of service, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and these strikes will remind Government just how reliant they are on our members' professionalism, commitment and flexibility."
The next strike will be for six hours from 6.30pm on New Year's Eve, then for two hours from 6.30am on January 3, which will be the ninth round of industrial action taken by the FBU since the row flared.
FBU members in Scotland will take action for the first time in the dispute by joining a ban on overtime for 48 hours from 7pm on December 27.
The most senior fire officer in London expressed concern about house fires during the festive period, as the brigade launched its Christmas safety campaign, Oh Christmas Tree, to remind people to take steps to prevent fires at home, including taking care with candles, fairy lights and when cooking.
The campaign features a stark image of a Christmas tree that was destroyed in a fire caused by a candle being left too close.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: "Millions of people will be at home celebrating Christmas and new year when the Fire Brigades Union goes on strike.
"Contingency plans are in place but we're urging people to take care, to be sensible, and to remember that fire brigades could be very busy during the strikes. Make sure you keep candles well away from anything that could catch fire and switch off fairy lights when you go out or to bed.
"If you're preparing a festive feast, it's a good idea to keep an eye on cooking to prevent kitchen fires. That way your turkey will be cooked to perfection and you'll avoid having a fire."
The brigade said the most common cause of fires during the Christmas period is cooking. Between December 20 and 30 each year there are an average 84 cooking fires in the capital alone.
The last five years have seen an average 28 fires in London on Christmas Day, 10% more than the usual daily average.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: "The decision by FBU leaders to interrupt the Christmas holiday season with unnecessary industrial action is completely cynical.
"I met with the FBU on 4 December to continue discussions but their actions today show that they are not serious about resolving this dispute, which simply further damages firefighters' standing with the public.
"The deal on the table gives firefighters one of the most generous pension schemes in all the public sector. A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension.
"An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
"I would like to reassure the public that there are robust contingency arrangements in place."
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