Leaders of the main firefighters' union have said they are to recommend a ballot for industrial action when their annual conference meets next week.
Unofficial strike action over pay and conditions flared up last month
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) executive said the move was in response to the refusal of employers to honour the pay deal reached last year.
It is believed the action would stop short of a strike, with firefighters continuing to answer 999 calls.
The union says firefighters should have received the pay rise in November 2003.
The latest move follows widespread unofficial strike action last month, sparked by the suspension of a number of firefighters for refusing to operate new anti-terrorist equipment.
Fire crews said they would not co-operate with their local authority employers until they received the 3.5% pay rise agreed last summer.
It has been delayed because employers want to negotiate changes to stand-down time, when firefighters remain on stand-by in stations on night shifts but do not carry out other duties such as training.
FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said the employers' were making fresh demands which had nothing to do with the agreement reached last year.
Patience 'run out'
He said: "We are angry and exasperated at councillors always moving the goalposts during these pay talks.
"Every time agreement is reached, they put up another obstacle.
"The test for the payment of 3.5% was verification by the Audit Commission that the pay agreement had been honoured and change was taking place.
"This test has been passed, the agreement has been honoured by us and it is time to pay up."
He accused employers of having "no genuine intention of reaching an agreement" and said the patience of firefighters had now run out.
Two weeks ago, FBU leaders had said they would recommend a deal aimed at ending the dispute.
The executive had said it was happy with a proposal by employers - but would have to consult with members.