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Last Updated: Monday, 10 May, 2004, 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK
Firefighters raise the alarm
Firefighters were on strike over pay
The strike over pay was long-running and acrimonious

Almost a year since the end of their strike over pay, is the story now over? Not at all, says Hereford firefighter Nigel Stroud.

Looking back, we had the best of times and, so we thought after last year's strikes, we had gone through the worst of times. Alas no.

The Fire Brigades Union meets on Tuesday for its annual conference.

And I can honestly say that in my 17 years of experience, even after all the misery of the picket lines, the morale of the "modernised" firefighter is at an all-time low.

I don't just speak from my station's point of view: many guys have friends and contacts throughout the other brigades, and the situation is the same all over.

The result of this failing morale is an overwhelming sense of apathy.

Fed up

Across the board, you see glum faces where once there was a reasonably happy working atmosphere.

There is very little pride left in our day-to-day work anymore.

Any mention of today's troubles, any announcements or press releases relating to our livelihood and careers is now met with a non-committal grunt, a shrug of the shoulders or just a turn-and-walk-away attitude.

Most of the people won't respond to any attempt to debate the issues anymore. We've had enough of it.

The cause of all this is nothing new. When we are led to believe there's been progress, we find it's a step backwards or sideways.

The constant re-negotiations with the local authorities, sometimes going over already settled issues, doesn't seem to provide anything positive.

Moving the goalposts

I forget the number of times we have been told we've done very well and achieved targets.

Yet when a mention is made of phase two of last November's pay settlement, there is always something extra to do.

Talk about moving goalposts!

We have already lost four operational posts per watch on the station in the last year.

From 18 down to 14, with additional duties and their training implications, this stretches us a lot.

Green goddess
Soldiers with ancient 'green goddess' vehicles stepped in during the strike

This cost-saving was allegedly to pay for our settlement, and yet we are now being blamed for the astronomical rise in council tax in Herefordshire.

This in turn has led to the government capping the budget of our county council and Local Fire Authority.

There is now talk of redundancies throughout the Hereford and Worcestershire Fire Brigade.

That means a number of jobs are on the line.

Just the thing to say to cheer us all up!

Big mess

So where is all this going to end?

There is very little optimism at all that Tuesday's Fire Brigade Union Conference will solve anything.

It's quite likely that the Union will disaffiliate itself from the Labour Party, but I doubt Tony Blair even knows or cares about it.

And there is little confidence that this mess can be sorted out satisfactorily.



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