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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 14:32 GMT
Tactics harden as strike begins
Firefighters on the picket line
Firefighters are due to strike on Tuesday
As the fire strike gets under way, firefighters in south Wales have said they will not respond to fires where lives may be at risk in the latest strike on Tuesday.

The Fire Brigades Union has said the decision is down to members on the ground to decide whether to respond to life-threatening call, as they did during the last strike.

Firefighters in mid and west Wales will leave their pickets outside stations at 1800 GMT, meaning they will also not be present to join Army or RAF crews to attend emergency calls.

They said that they provided excellent cover; they totally ignored the emergency cover still being provided by the picket lines

Mike Smith

Although members will still be free to attend calls, it is unlikely they would learn of an emergency without being present at the station.

Explaining the latest move, FBU chairman Nick Dodd said firefighters had "nothing left to lose".

"Our members do not feel standing outside a fire station - feeling freezing cold for no pay for an employer that feels we are worthless - is worth their while."

Politicians joined strikers on their picket lines during Tuesday morning.

Fire Brigades Union officer Mike Smith said: "The government after the last strike extolled the virtues of the army fire cover.

"They said that they provided excellent cover; they totally ignored the emergency cover still being provided by the picket lines.

"Our members have quite simply said, if they think the army is doing such a good job, let them carry on."

A firefighter in Merthyr said: "My feeling is that because we're not insured, I have a family, I have to think about my family and as a consequence to that I won't be turning out."

At Caernarfon fire station in north Wales, firefighters said they would judge each life-threatening call on its merits and decide at the time whether to respond.

Mid and West Wales Fire Service officers have said they will leave their picket lines at 1800 GMT, leaving the army to deal with all calls, including life-threatening ones.

PLANNED STRIKES
21 January: 24 hours
28 January: 48 hours
1 February: 48 hours
Firefighters in south Wales had voted not to attend emergency calls at a meeting in Caerphilly on Monday night.

They said they had received a letter from managers warning them they would not be covered by insurance if they did.

They did agree, however, to maintain picket lines at all the fire stations, and they would respond in the face of a major public emergency.

The vote had been prompted by claims the dispute has been prolonged by their decision to leave picket lines to help the armed forces during major incidents.

Firefighters in Merthyr Tydfil led the move not to attend to emergencies during the 24-hour walkout which began at 0900 GMT.

South Wales Fire Service has warned firefighters by letter that any fire responses made while on strike raise problems with health and safety and insurance.

Statement

In a statement, the fire service said: "We understand the moral pressure on firefighters to deploy to incidents and that the fact that some may.

"In view of the time since the last strike it is felt appropriate to reaffirm to staff the issues relating to health and safety and insurance.

"This letter advise staff of brigade management concerns and gives them a procedure to follow should they choose to self-deploy."

Forty-two emergency fire engines are being deployed across the three Welsh brigades as the strike starts.

The emergency fire crews have more Red Goddesses at their disposal - 16 rather than the two which were available during the last strike.

Twenty-six Green Goddesses are being deployed with another 14 kept in reserve.

Red Goddesses are slightly more modern than Green Goddesses, which were built in the 1950s.

Negotiation

Following the planned strike, the employers and firefighters' union may be back around the negotiating table as early as Wednesday.

Local authority employers have stood firm on a pay offer of 4%, rising to 11% over two years.

The Fire Brigades' Union maintains 4,500 jobs will be axed and 150 fire stations closed if the recommendations are accepted.

Firefighters held a two-day national strike - the first in 25 years - last November, followed shortly after by an eight-day walkout.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Wyre Davies
"They are unhappy at comments from government that the military is coping as well as firefighters would normally do"
  BBC Wales' Penny Roberts
"Further planned strikes look set to go ahead"

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14 Jan 03 | Politics
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