Blackheath celebrations face fresh threat as firefighters issue strike call for Bonfire Night

Another blow was dealt to the Blackheath fireworks this week, as it was announced that firefighters intend to stage a 2-day strike over Bonfire Night, possibly jeopardising arrangements for the already-troubled event.

New Cross Fire Station. Photo: Melanie Macleod

Another blow was dealt to the Blackheath fireworks this week, as it was announced that firefighters intend to stage a 2-day strike over Bonfire night, possibly jeopardising arrangements for the already-troubled event.

A council spokesperson said: “We will need to keep our arrangements under review in the light of the Fire Brigades’ Union announcement.”

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has called for industrial action after claiming firefighters were being threatened with dismissal should they disagree with new shift patterns.

At present the duty times are 15-hour night shifts and 9-hour day shifts, but it is proposed these be changed to two 12-hour shifts – a move that the FBU oppose, saying that a 12-hour shift would be impractical, and would reduce the time available for firefighters to spend with their families.

The second strike, following that of last weekend, is scheduled to begin at 10am on 5 November and go on until 9am on 7 November. Prime Minister David Cameron has branded the strikes ‘reckless.’

Fire authority chairman Brian Coleman said: “What sort of union orders its firefighters to go on strike over Bonfire Night?”

General secretary of the FBU, Matt Wrack told the Press Association: “We do not want to take this action but we have no choice. The alternative is to allow London’s firefighters to become doormats for their employers to walk on.”

“The chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman and the Commissioner, Ron Dobson, want to run the London Fire Brigade as though it were a Victorian mill.”

“They want a frightened and obedient firefighting force. We simply cannot accept that. There’s still nearly two weeks for the London Fire Brigade to get this right. Show a little respect for your firefighters.”

“Meet their representatives and hammer out a compromise with us, instead of trying to get your way by bullying.”

Lewisham FBU spokesman, Toby Walsh, also disapproved of the behaviour of Brian Coleman, saying of the strikes: “It’s the last thing Lewisham members wanted to do. It’s not about pay and it’s not about the fact hours are changing. We resent having a gun held to our head and being told what to do.”

Despite the strike, the London Fire Brigade has a legal duty to provide a fire and rescue service at all times.

In June last year the London Fire Brigade entered into a five-year £9m contract with AssetCo to provide London with a contingency level of fire and rescue services if firefighters are not available.

AssetCo provided the cover service last weekend over the strikes, providing 27 stand-in fire engines in place of the usual 150, and responding to 49 incidents.

The stand-in crews are likely to be overstretched on bonfire night, as on average firefighters receive and attend twice as many calls than on a normal day during the event.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson however urged Londoners to still attend firework displays, saying: “Londoners should be confident that they can go ahead with their fireworks parties – but, as always, take tried and tested precautions by following the Firework Code.”

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