I've Saved 20 Lives but They Say I'm Not Worth Pounds 30,000; WHY BRAVE JOANNE MAY HAVE TO STRIKE.(News)

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Byline: EMMA BRITTON

JOANNE Evans is trained to deal with lethal chemical spills, horrific motorway pile-ups and gas leaks. If you are drowning in 30ft of water she will put on a waterproof suit and life jacket, speed out in a rescue boat and pull you to safety.

She can free a crash victim from a car using hydraulic cutting gear.

She has an HGV licence and can drive vehicles weighing more than three and a half tonnes.

She can perform life-saving heart massage - and can even run up stairs with 24lb of gear strapped to her back.

Since joining the fire brigade eight years ago, 33-year-old Joanne has saved 20 people's lives.

Her own life is at risk every time she attends a serious incident - yet the Government refuses to give her a decent pay rise.

It means action-girl Joanne faces deadly danger for just pounds 21,500 a year.

Joanne doesn't want to go on strike for more pay, but like her colleagues, she fears it may happen soon.

Firefighters across the UK have rejected a four per cent pay offer - and are demanding a basic salary of pounds 30,000, a rise of 40 per cent.

Joanne says: "I will strike if that's what it comes to. Personally, I would never want to strike because of the dangers it could put people in.

"But I truly believe it is the only way we are going to get a decent pay increase."

Joanne, now based at Kirkdale Fire Station in Liverpool, used to earn pounds 25,000 a year as the manager of a fitness club in Chester.

She took a pounds 7,000 drop in pay to join the fire service at pounds 18,000 a year and undergo an intensive 16-week training course.

It took her five years to reach the pounds 21,500 paid to fully-qualified firefighters.

Now with the current small increases on offer, all she could expect in 15 years more service would be an extra pounds 1,000.

SHE has never regretted joining the service, but cannot understand why she and her colleagues are being denied the pay rise they feel their essential job deserves.

She says: "When you get to a fire you don't know what you're going to come up against.

"The most dangerous jobs we get are house fires. More firefighters die in them than any other incidents.

"I get quite a big adrenaline rush when I get to one.

"The heat is extremely intense in such a small space and you can't fight the fire from the outside because there could be people inside who need to be saved.

"I was called out to tackle a blaze in a three-storey pub where there were people hanging out of the upstairs windows.

"The top floor was well alight and myself and a colleague had to fight our way through two floors of excessive heat and thick black smoke.

"We couldn't see a thing, but we could hear people screaming and shouting.

"One of the four people trapped wanted to jump - so we had to calm them all down and persuade them they would be safe if they followed us. Another time, we went to a house fire in the early hours of the morning to find a mum outside screaming hysterically.

"The house was filling with smoke and she was crying and telling us her two children were trapped inside. We couldn't see anything, but we went upstairs to the bedroom and found them hiding in the wardrobe.

"They were three and four years old and absolutely terrified, but we got them out and back to their mum."

On Thursday, Fire Brigades' Union members unanimously approved a ballot of 55,000 firefighters on strike action. If they decide to down tools it will be the first national firefighters strike in 25 years.

The Army is poised to bring in their ageing fleet of Green Goddesses, but there are only 900 available for emergencies compared to the 3,000 modern fire engines normally in service.

During the last firefighters strike in the winter of 1977-78 Green Goddesses answered calls for nine weeks. …