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Firefighters strike over pensions
Firefighters in England and Wales staged a fresh strike last night following their bitter row with the Government over pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) walked out at 6.30pm, mounting picket lines outside fire stations until the stoppage ended at 11pm.
A further two-hour strike will be held from 6am on Monday, the day before Bonfire Night.
Brigades across the country had urged members of the public to put off any firework displays in their own gardens until tonight or go to an organised event.
The union fears firefighters will be made redundant if they fail fitness tests and are unable to find other work in the fire service.
A London contingency fire and rescue service of 27 fire engines, crewed by temporary firefighters was in place throughout the strike.
Extra friction was sparked between firefighters and employers in London when a major blaze broke out at a scrap metal yard in Dagenham.
Striking FBU staff, who would otherwise have been on duty, were recalled to their stations by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) under the agreed and voluntary "Recall to Duty Procedure" to deal with the major incident.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said the FBU breached the agreement by telling firefighters not to break ranks.
"They claim the recall is not valid because there is no risk to life," Mr Dobson said.
"There is no reference to risk of life in the agreed protocols to implement a major incident.
"A major incident can and has been implemented because of the size of this fire and the resources needed to deal with it. By not responding to the recall it is the FBU that is in breach of the agreement."
But FBU London Secretary Paul Embery said the recall was not agreed.
He added: "The London Fire Brigade has been giving assurances that their contingencies were sufficient".
Twenty fire engines and 120 firefighters and officers attended the blaze at the yard in Perry Road, Dagenham.
Around 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal in the open air was alight and a hazard zone was put in place.
Following the end of the strike, a spokeswoman for LFB said the situation at Dagenham was under control.
She said: "The strike started at 6.30pm, and when the fire crews left we called in four contingency crews.
"The strike ended at 11pm, and we have had six crews brought back to the scene. The fire is under control."
The union held a four-hour stoppage last month but called off another strike after it appeared a deal was in sight, but officials said the Government and fire employers had failed to offer any firm guarantees on jobs or pensions as a result of changing the pension age from 55 to 60.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "It is ludicrous that after two years of negotiations the Government has still not sorted out this mess.
"Firefighters are keen for these issues to be resolved through discussion but the Government won't even listen to its own evidence which highlights that the schemes are unworkable and unaffordable.
"Firefighters want a pension scheme that takes account of the hazardous nature of the job, is affordable and workable for them and for the taxpayer. We hope this brief strike will mean the Government returns to negotiations so we can agree a sensible way forward."
The FBU said it has timed the strikes so that celebrations on Bonfire Night and the Saturdays before and after November 5, which are the most popular times for firework displays, can take place.
The union said it was led to believe that the Government was willing to offer a guarantee that firefighters whose fitness levels declined with age would not face being sacked, adding that fire service employers had confirmed that this risk does exist for firefighters under the new arrangements.
Negotiations with the Scottish Government have so far prevented any industrial action taking place, although a final settlement is yet to be reached on all the issues in the dispute.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: "This strike action by the FBU is completely unnecessary and does nothing but damage the good reputation firefighters have with the public.
"We offered firefighters similar fitness principles to those the FBU accepted in Scotland.
"The public will be baffled by the FBU's course of action when they hear that the deal being offered to firefighters gives them 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."
The union has disputed the figures.
Shadow local government and communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "This strike is a sign of the Government's failure to get round the table and sort this dispute out. It has had two years to do so and it is time ministers did their job."
London Fire Brigade said it received 124 999 calls during the strike period, and contingency crews attended 17 incidents in the capital, including the large fire at a Dagenham scrap metal yard.
A statement said: "A recall notice was issued to crews due to the scale and seriousness of the Dagenham fire, which was ongoing as the strike started.
"The FBU immediately advised firefighters that they did not agree that the protocol could be invoked and to ignore it.
"Emergency cover was provided from 13 strategic locations by 27 fire engines and around 200 Emergency Fire Contingency Crew staff."
Fire services across England and Wales tweeted their thanks to the public for their efforts in staying safe during the strike.