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3 Oct 2014
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Firefighters The First Night of the Firefighters Strike
by Bob Walker

THE retained (or part-time) firefighters in the Staffordshire town of Eccleshall are plainly not in the job for the money.

All 11 men live within five minutes journey of their station. They are paid an average £1,500 a year and receive just £15 (before tax) per call-out.

But throughout the rolling programme of strikes organised by the Fire Brigades' Union, front line cover in this largely rural area will be provided by these welders, publicans and businessmen.

Sub Officer Steve Whitcut acknowledges that, during the stoppage by his full-time colleagues, his men will have a greater role to play. He says that without the usual back-up from regular firefighters he will have to consider whether or not to send his men to smoke-filled buildings.

"We may have to be defensive firefighters rather than offensive," he says.

All the men at Eccleshall are members of the Retained Firefighters' Union which is opposed to any strike action. Although Mr Whitcut says there was tension between the two unions in the run-up to the strike, he doesn't expect any pickets to turn up outside his station. If they did, he expected his crew to cross the picket lines.

He says the close links between the Eccleshall men and their local community made it impossible for them to strike.

"We live here and it's our job to protect our families and our friends," he says.

The Eccleshall firefighters on average deal with three call-outs a week. Some of them are on call 24 hours a day.

"We don't know if we'll be expected to deal with incidents outside our area," says Mr Whitcut.

"At the moment it's a bit of the unknown."

Sub Officer Steve Whitcut in civvies at Eccleshall Fire Station.
Sub Officer Steve Whitcut in "civvies" at Eccleshall Fire Station.
Listen - We talk to firefighters who went on strike and those who worked through the night.
Sub Officer Steve Whitcut at Eccleshall Fire Station on duty in uniform.
...and on duty in uniform.
Listen - The armed forces have been fully stretched providing cover during the fire-fighters strike. We talk to Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.
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