Firefighters to strike on Christmas Eve over pensions

Firefighters walk out in Adam Street, Cardiff The walk-out is the seventh in the dispute over changes to firefighters' pensions

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Fire services across Wales have prepared for a "challenging" five-hour strike by crews on Christmas Eve as the dispute over pension changes continues.

Firefighters walked out at 19:00 GMT to return at midnight but senior officers said they had contingency plans.

The three Welsh fire services warn homes face an increased risk of fire at Christmas from unattended candles, overloaded sockets and people drinking.

The strike is the seventh walk-out by fire crews in recent months.

Further action is planned for New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and Friday, 3 January.

The UK government plans to raise firefighters' retirement age from 55 to 60 and increase their pension contributions.

Ministers say pensions remain "generous", but the Fire Brigades Union has said it could lead to older staff being sacked or having their pensions reduced.

Start Quote

This is a significant reduction from our usual levels of emergency cover and expertise”

End Quote Rod Hammerton South Wales Fire and Rescue Service

North Wales Fire and Rescue Service said it expected a high number of its crews to take part in the action, so its response to fires and other emergencies would be limited.

It said the priority would be be to "respond to life-critical incidents".

"Unlike the dispute in 2002/3, support from the military in the form of Green Goddesses is no longer available to North Wales Fire and Rescue Service and our ability to provide a service to the public will be challenging," the service added.

"However, we will continue to respond to emergency calls by prioritising the deployment of the available resources at our disposal and focusing on the protection of life."

South Wales Fire and Rescue Service warned it would have "very limited resources" at its disposal once the strike began.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Rod Hammerton said: "We have recruited and trained an auxiliary reserve. These are members of the public who have been trained in basic firefighting and rescue techniques and they will be capable of dealing with the vast majority of the calls we usually receive.

"However this is a significant reduction from our usual levels of emergency cover and expertise and the service will need to carefully deploy these auxiliary reserve units to where life is most at risk."

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said it had a number of operational staff that were not in the union but it still expected its response to be "slightly reduced".

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Derek Masson urged people to be "fire and road safety aware".

He said: "Fire-associated risks increase significantly over Christmas - from the distractions of a crowded house while cooking, impaired reaction times from alcohol consumption, dangers of overloaded sockets, flammable decorations and unattended candles."

Cerith Griffiths, secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union in Wales said the action was not a situation firefighters wanted to be in but they had to defend their pensions.

"We feel we've been put in a situation by this government where by we need answers to some of the questions we've asked with regards to the changes that have been proposed to our pensions," he added.

"We need to highlight to the government we are a 24/7, 365 days a year service, that we are there for people at all times and that means firefighters and fire control staff being taken away from their families to help the public at these times.

"There are contingency plans within each service in Wales to deal with any issues and also they'll have a major incident plan that should it need to come into operation then we would conform to that request as well."

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