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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
'I just want a decent wage'
Many firefighters struggle to make ends meet
Many firefighters struggle to make ends meet

Thousands of firefighters from across the UK lobbied talks at London's Westminster Central Hall aimed at preventing a national strike over pay.

Here, one fire service worker explains why she supports their 40% pay claim.

Annie Lewis bought her "tiny two-bedroom house" in Oxfordshire five years ago.

Annie Lewis
Annie Lewis earns less than 23,500 a year

The 42-year-old senior fire control operator, who earns less than 23,500 a year, paid 72,000.

"Now they are going for 127,000," she told BBC News Online.

And without the 522 annual allowance paid to firefighters in London, that is simply out of her range.

Things were bad enough five years ago.

"I moved in straight after my divorce, and things were very tight.

"It is slightly better now - with interest rates falling - but still quite difficult."


I just want a decent salary that reflects my commitment to my community

Senior fire control operator Annie Lewis

Annie has not been on holiday for four years.

"You have to watch the pennies," she explained.

"I do not have any expensive hobbies, I do not smoke and I do not drink much."

And after 20 years with Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Annie could do with a proper break.

"I have worked 10 out of the past 11 Christmases."

"And there is no allowance built into the salary for that."

Macho image

The Local Government Association, which employs firefighters, wants a pay deal linked to a commitment to modernise the service.

Apart from changing the rigid shift patterns, they want more women to join.

Annie agrees.

"There are a lot of women who could do a good job.

"And it would help counter the stereotype of the macho fireman.

"I am not against modernisation - but it should not be dependent on us accepting an unfair pay deal.

"I just want a decent salary that reflects my commitment to my community and the job I do."

Long struggle

The Fire Brigades Union is seeking a rise of almost 40%.

And although Annie remains optimistic, she knows there is a long struggle ahead.

"There is a good chance of winning - but it will not be easy."


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