Page last updated at 18:46 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 19:46 UK

Firefighters begin strike action

Firefighters' protest
Workers protested with their families in Barnsley

Firefighters in South Yorkshire have begun 24 hours of strike action following a dispute over shift changes.

During the industrial action, which started at 1800 BST, South Yorkshire Fire Authority management staff will operate the service.

Deputy chief fire officer, Steve Swarbrick, said it was estimated that response times would be two or three minutes slower during the strike.

Managers said they anticipated some staff would break the strike.

Lives at risk

They said about 130 people would be working overnight.

South Yorkshire's chief fire officer, Mark Smitherman, said managers and volunteers would be manning 15 front-line fire engines and a series of other appliances would be used for minor incidents.

The service normally has 33 fire engines on call.

Earlier, Mr Smitherman appealed to union members to reconsider the strike.

Mark Smitherman
Mark Smitherman urged the union to think seriously about the strike

"I would beseech the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) even at this late stage to think very, very seriously about the impact they are having on the communities of South Yorkshire", he said.

However action went ahead as planned with workers walking out at 1800 BST.

The FBU is also involved in disputes over jobs and cuts in other areas, including Essex, Warwickshire and Cornwall.

The action in South Yorkshire comes after 744 employees were threatened with the sack if they did not accept new employment contracts to work 12-hour day and night shifts.

The fire authority wants crews to work the new shifts in place of the current nine-hour days and 15-hour nights.

But firefighters have argued this would present families with a range of problems, including childcare arrangements.

Speaking during one protest in Barnsley, Jerry Pagan of the FBU said: "I do not dispute that lives are being put at risk, but it's not the fire brigade's doing. It's the fire authority that's pushing this dispute."

No talks between the union and authority are currently planned.

A further 24-hour strike is planned for 23 October.

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