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 Monday, 2 December, 2002, 17:25 GMT
Military 'coped well' during strike
Goddess crews tackling a car fire in Cambridge during the strike
Military crews prevented disruption, said the government
The government has said military cover worked well during the first eight-day fire strike, leading to "little disruption" to UK life and no more fatalities than normal.

Fire Services Minister Nick Raynsford said the results suggested new working practices could be safely adopted by the fire service.

But the Fire Brigades Union said government proposals were "completely unacceptable".

The row came as the FBU gathered to discuss whether to call fresh strikes in the New Year.

The first of two more eight-day strikes is due to begin on Wednesday, with another one due before Christmas, but further walk-outs could be agreed.

Mr Raynsford called on the FBU to prevent any further strikes, saying further action would be "foolish and foolhardy".

The government's emergencies committee, Cobra, published a statistical analysis of the strike which said 19,000 troops had covered for the 55,000 or so striking firefighters "well".

Fire strike statistics
12,160 incidents attended by emergency cover
30,278 calls fielded
12 deaths
Fatality rates in line with average
168 hoax callers disconnected
12 being prosecuted
Source: Cobra report
Mr Raynsford, launching the report, said it suggested that in particular two new methods of working, opposed by the FBU, could be successful.

He said joint control centres staffed by firefighters, ambulance and police staff had been "effective".

And he said emergency cover at night could be reduced, because most fires occurred in the early to mid evening, tailing away at night.

Fatalities and injuries were broadly in line with average figures, he said, thanks both to the emergency cover and to the behaviour of the general public.

'Ludicrous answer'

"In general, there was very little disruption as a result of the strike," he said.

"Business, work, domestic life, and leisure time went on much as normal."

We are available at any time to come and talk seriously about resolving this dispute

FBU officer John McGhee
The report acknowledged that firefighters left picket lines to help tackle blazes on a number of occasions, and there were few problems related to picketing.

BBC correspondent Kevin Bocquet said the Cobra report had been met with "some scepticism" in fire stations.

One Liverpool firefighter, Station Officer Dave Perrin, said the claim that there could be less cover at night, for example, was misleading.

"Most severe fires occur of a night-time... in the early hours usually, because there's nobody about, and they take longer to be detected."

The national officer of the FBU, John McGhee, said the union was willing to talk to the local authority employers on any area of modernisation.

But he said any plan to reduce night cover at fire stations would be "a ludicrous answer to public safety concerns".

'Politicising' row

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the government should seek a court injunction banning the next planned firefighters' strike.

Of 10,793 incidents attended by troops
2,650 were false alarms
6,780 were non-life threatening
1,239 posed possible threat to life
124 were life threatening
Source: Cobra report

Mr Duncan Smith said action should be taken "swiftly" to end the strike, and troops should go back into combat training because of the threat of war with Iraq.

Mr Raynsford said the government had "no plans at the moment" to introduce a strike ban, although nothing was ruled out for future reforms.

Ahead of the FBU meeting, leader Andy Gilchrist denied wanting to "politicise" the strike by broadening it out from a dispute over pay into an attempt to topple the government.

"In terms of the dispute, the dispute is in very simple terms an issue about fire service pay," he said.

  The BBC's George Eykyn
"Further strikes in the new year may be announced today"
  Government Minister Nick Raynsford
"I want to thank members of the armed forces"
  John McGhee, FBU national officer
"We want this dispute resolved and we want it resolved quickly"

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02 Dec 02 | Politics
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