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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Armed forces on fire strike standby
Green Goddesses could once again become a familiar sight in the UK
The armed forces are being trained in firefighting
Hundreds of soldiers, airmen and sailors are being trained to provide emergency cover in the event of a national strike by firefighters.

Around 650 members of the armed forces are undergoing a five-week training course at RAF Manston in Kent, to bring them up to date with the latest firefighting techniques.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), is recommending strike action to its members for the first time in 25 years. It is demanding a pay rise of almost 40%, which will take pay for fully-qualified firefighters to 30,000.

Green Goddess fire engines at storage depot
On standby: Green Goddess fire engines could be brought in
If an agreement remains out of reach, many more servicemen and women may have to be drafted in to provide emergency fire cover across the UK.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We are hoping that a solution to the dispute will be found, and that our forces will not be required.

"However it is prudent to have plans in place, just in case there is a strike.

"The training course at RAF Manston covers a variety of skills including how to use breathing apparatus and put out different types of fires.

"We will obviously not be able to provide the same degree of cover as the fire service - we will be there for emergencies only.

"Personnel from all three services will be involved, including members of our defence fire services who are already trained."

Fire engine
A pay deal was last agreed 25 years ago
If the firefighters do vote in favour of a national walkout, "Green Goddess" fire engines will once again become a familiar sight on the streets of Britain.

They were first used by the Home Office back in 1977 - during the first national firefighters' strike. It began on 14 November and lasted for nine weeks.

As firemen took to picket lines in front of their stations, 10,000 servicemen from the army, navy and air force stepped in as emergency cover.

The Ministry of Defence has also helped to provide cover during several regional fire service disputes in Essex and Merseyside over the last decade.

If their skills are called on again, they will not be alone in their struggle to contain blazes across the UK.

The Retained Firefighters Union says its 4,000 members will not join a strike if it is called by the Fire Brigade Union.

Police forces will also assist in the operation to provide emergency cover.


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