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1977: Firefighters strike over pay claim

VIDEO : Green Goddess fire fighters deployed nationwide

Firefighters are claiming widespread support for their first national strike, over a 30% pay demand.

The 30,000-strong Fire Brigades Union claims 97.5% of its members have heeded the strike call and are no longer manning the pumps.

Talks have been continuing between union leaders and employers but there is little prospect of an early resolution with the Government insisting there is no breach of its 10% public sector pay ceiling.

Troops have been brought in to provide emergency cover - but there is concern among soldiers about their lack of training and modern firefighting equipment.


"We couldn't let them die. For God's sake it was a hospital"

Striking firefighter

Firefighters say they have already waited two years for the Government to consider their pay claim.

During that time the police received a substantial pay rise while firefighters - in line with many others - had to settle for 6 per week.

Much of the discussion between the union and employers is focused on the possibility of a reduction in the 48-hour working week, which would allow officers to earn considerable overtime payments.

In many areas firefighters have deserted their stations only reluctantly.

Firemen, still wearing their uniforms and pickets armbands, rushed to the scene of a fire at St Andrew's Hospital in Bow, East London, after a basement storeroom caught light.

One of the officers said: "We couldn't let them die. For God's sake, it was a hospital, what else could we do but come and help?"

A colleague Barry Holmes said: "The situation here was really dangerous and people could have died if we had not come."

Emergency troops did arrive at the scene first - and fire officers said afterwards without their help the building would have burned to the ground.

Elsewhere in the country, troops averted a major catastrophe on Merseyside when they stopped a haulage depot blaze at Kirkdale spreading to a 500-gallon petrol storage tank.

A woman and her twin sons escaped from a bungalow at Wallington in Surrey after a gas container exploded starting a fire. Troops in a Green Goddess had to drive 25 minutes from Croydon and the house was destroyed. The local fire station was less than three minutes drive away.

In Context
The TUC General Council voted narrowly against the firefighters' demands for a public campaign against the Government's public sector 10% pay ceiling on 21 December.

The firefighters were receiving no strike pay, but got plenty of donations from the public in the run up to Christmas.

The insurance companies picked up the final bill for the dispute with payouts totalling 117.5m compared with 52.3m for the same three months the previous year.

The firefighters eventually settled for a 10% increase, taking an average salary to just over 4,000, with the promise of more to come.

Firefighters went on strike again in 2002/03. The long-running dispute which included a series of one day stoppages over a period of several months ended with a 16% pay rise tied to a modernisation package.

The Fire Brigades Union chief Andy Gilchrist said at the time of the settlement it was "a first phase" towards raising a fire officer's basic pay to 30,000.


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