Firefighters strike over pensions in England and Wales

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Media captionSome firefighters walked out amid a large blaze in Dagenham involving 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal, as Sian Lloyd reports

Firefighters in England and Wales have staged a fresh strike in a row with the government over pension ages.

Ministers described the action by Fire Brigades Union members as completely unnecessary and damaging to the reputation of firefighters.

Friday's strike began at 18:30 GMT and ended at 23:00. A further strike is planned on Monday morning.

In London, contingency crews dealt with a large scrap yard fire which led to a voluntary recall of striking FBU staff.

'Acted disgracefully'

The cause of the blaze in Dagenham, which started around 15:20, is not yet known.

Twenty fire engines and 120 firefighters and officers were sent to the scene, which involved about 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal.

"The strike started at 6.30pm, and when the fire crews left we called in four contingency crews," a London Fire Brigade spokeswoman said.

"The strike ended at 11pm, and we have had six crews brought back to the scene. The fire is under control."

Image caption The blaze affected about 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal in Dagenham

An agreement was in place for all striking staff who would normally be on duty to be recalled in the event of a major incident, but the FBU said the way the London Fire Brigade had enacted it had "breached" the agreement.

Paul Fuller, the president of the Chief Fire Officers Association, praised the majority off "very committed and hardworking" firefighters but condemned those in London who opted to strike.

He said: "Those that walked away from a burning fire last night acted disgracefully and have brought shame on the fire and rescue service. I hope they never do that again.

"As to whether we will see more of that, I sincerely hope not. I've never seen the like of it in the 35 years I've been in the service."

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told BBC Radio 5 Live's Stephan Nolan show: "[Going on strike] is not something any of us want to do.

"We have tried to avoid this dispute. We have tried to avoid strike action for three years. But what is the alternative if you have a government who won't listen or won't negotiate?"

He said plans to make firefighters work until the age of 60 were "unworkable" and any pension scheme should take that into account.

'No alternative'

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson maintained the recall was valid and had been issued because of the size of the fire and the resources needed to deal with it.

"The FBU have told firefighters not to follow the recall notice. They claim the recall is not valid because there is no risk to life. There is no reference to risk of life in the agreed protocols to implement a major incident," he said.

London Fire Brigade said in a statement it received 124,999 calls during the strike period and 200 contingency crew staff attended 17 incidents in the capital.

"A recall notice was issued to crews due to the scale and seriousness of the Dagenham fire, which was ongoing as the strike started," it said.

"The FBU immediately advised firefighters that they did not agree that the protocol could be invoked and to ignore it."

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Media captionThe BBC's Fiona Trott was in York and witnessed the start of the strike

Officers from Avon Fire Service left the picket line 15 minutes early on Friday to deal with the possibility of people being trapped inside a building in Weston Super Mare.

The latest action comes after a four-hour stoppage last month, followed by an abandoned strike when an agreement to the two-year dispute was anticipated.

The union wants assurances about terms of employment in view of government plans to raise the retirement age for firefighters from 55 to 60.

The FBU says it fears firefighters will be made redundant if they fail fitness tests and are unable to find other work in the fire service.

But the government says firefighters have been offered similar fitness principles to those the FBU accepted in Scotland and its proposals offer them one of the most generous pension schemes in the public sector.

'Be sensible'

The FBU said it had timed the strike to avoid Bonfire Night and the Saturdays on either side.

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: "[Firefighters] are courageous people, they deserve a good pension scheme. We believe we've put that in place. We think it is completely unnecessary for them to call a strike at this time.

"To the general public I would say there are good contingency plans in place right across the country and if they have an emergency call - a 999 call - they will get an emergency response."

The government's chief fire and rescue adviser, Peter Holland, said "people shouldn't be alarmed" by the strike but urged them to "be sensible".

Industrial action has been avoided in Scotland through talks with the Scottish government, although there is no final agreement in place as yet.

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