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Public 'in peril' if firefighters strike

FIREFIGHTERS insist that if their threatened strike goes ahead public safety will be put at risk because the Army has insufficient fire engines and soldiers poorly trained for the task.

Kent members of the Fire Brigades' Union say the Government and their employers are providing inadequate cover in the event of industrial action.

FBU regional health and safety official and Maidstone Fire Station watch commander Alan Stark said: "We have a concern for the public of Kent that the emergency service is not as it should be. We think provision is not sufficient."

The Army has denied suggestions by the FBU that trained firefighting troops have been re-deployed ahead of a possible war with Iraq.

South East Army spokesman Paul Beard said: "We have not changed our planning. We are still going to deploy the same troops as we were going to deploy previous to any changes elsewhere. We are not pretending they are trained in the same way as a fully trained firefighter and can do everything a firefighter can do."

The FBU claims the Army has less than 20 Green Goddesses on standby to provide cover in Kent if firefighters vote in favour of industrial action, but the Army said plans for cover have not yet been finalised.

There are normally 66 fire engines plus almost 50 other appliances on hand to fight fires in Kent.

Kent Fire Brigade is working with the Army on contingency plans in case of industrial action but will not know what resources it has available until the results of the a firefighters' ballot is known at the end of October.

Suzi Christie, head of communications, said: "We will do our best with the with the resources we have. But a lot of special services that we offer such as at road traffic accidents and animal rescue will be affected."

The Fire Brigades' Union is balloting members on industrial action after its bid for a wage increase from £21,500 to £30,000 a year for a fully-qualified firefighter was rejected by their employers.

Mr Stark said: "If the employers would come up with a meaningful offer we would discuss it but at the moment they are not giving us any offer at all. We are still hoping that there can be some way of avoiding this."

Ballot forms have been sent out to 52,000 firefighters and emergency fire control officers across the country.

Mr Stark said: "I don't want my family put at risk because of this. I am no different from anyone else. We are all worried about safety, but the employers have pushed us down this road. I just can't believe a Labour Government is going to let this happen."

The National Fire Employers has offered the firefighters an initial four per cent pay rise and an independent inquiry in to pay.

They claim that 64 per cent of the British public believe fire fighters should accept the offer and are urging firefighters to vote against industrial action.

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