Six Hours at Mercy of the Flames; County Is Left without Cover after Suspension of Fireman

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), September 11, 2001 | Go to article overview

Six Hours at Mercy of the Flames; County Is Left without Cover after Suspension of Fireman


Byline: Richard Elias and Alan Jewell

THE speed at which events surrounding the Fire Brigades Union on Merseyside occurred yesterday astonished everyone concerned.

It led to the whole county being without fire cover for six hours - a situation never previously thought to have occurred in the country.

At one stage, the men and women of Red Watch were joined in their spontaneous protest by control room personnel and even training school staff.

Their apparent, almost unanimous support for the walk-out call indicates the level of distrust and disdain they still feel for their chief officer, Malcolm Saunders.

It is a situation which has remained just below boiling point since the union decided to return to work after the12 days of summer strike action.

Yesterday, though, the temperature was raised a degree or two and the situation inevitably bubbled over.

Events began at High Park Street, in Toxteth, shortly before mid-day and, within four hours, all 26 stations across Merseyside had walked out.

News filtered through there that a colleague, a man described by one fireman as being "a non-militant, not particularly union-involved bloke" had been suspended from duty.

It followed an investigation by the Merseyside Fire Brigades Union into a chatroom website allegedly set up by the individual to allow comments about the recent dispute to be posted.

However, according to management, the site contained "particularly nasty stuff, including abusive, sexist and racist comments".

Brigade spokesman Mike Harris claimed: "This was nothing to do with the strike. It was abusive, bullying and racist."

As a result, the individual fireman was deemed responsible for the site and was subsequently suspended on full pay under the Fire Service disciplinary code.

It led to emergency discussions between senior fire brigade officers and their counterparts in Merseyside Police and the Mersey Region Ambulance Service.

During the most-recent industrial action, cover had been provided by the armed forces who used Green Goddesses and other military vehicles to deal with incidents normally handled by the fire brigade.

But this time, because the action was unofficial and had not been sanctioned by the FBU, it meant there had been no time to make alternative arrangements.

During the afternoon crisis, one senior brigade officer told the Daily Post : "There is absolutely no cover anywhere on Merseyside.

"We have a small number of control room staff taking calls, helped by a couple of senior officers.

"At present we are taking emergency calls only, but all we can do is take details from people."

He continued: "The law of the land says that the union has got to give us notice but the union is telling us that the walk-out was totally spontaneous. …

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