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Fire strike: Hoax caller 'could have put lives at risk'
FIRE chiefs have thanked the North Yorkshire public for keeping 999 calls to a minimum when firefighters went on strike yesterday in a dispute over pensions.
But they condemned a hoax caller who rang up 35 minutes after the four-hour strike began at noon, and they warned such calls could result in a six-month jail sentence if the perpetrator was caught.
Members of the Fire Brigades’ Union formed picket lines outside stations during the strike, including York’s biggest station in Clifford Street.
Paul Warnock, the union’s York divisional chair, said the industrial action had not been taken lightly and followed two years of national negotiations over pensions between the union and Government.
He claimed that while the retirement age was being raised from 55 to 60, firefighters in their 50s were at increased risk of being sacked for failing to meet tough new standards of fitness and losing out on their pension.
Chief Fire Officer Nigel Hutchinson said the service had more than half its fire engines available to attend incidents during the strike, should they have been required. But it only attended five incidents in the whole county, none of them fires.
The incidents included three automatic fire alarms, which were attended by operational officers in cars, a lift rescue in Masham, and an incident at Scarborough’s Valley Bridge, in which the service assisted North Yorkshire Police as a man threatened to jump off. The man was later safely talked down, said police.
Area manager Dave McCabe, head of risk management, said of the hoax call, which was made in the Northallerton area: “It is shocking to think that members of the public would consider making these calls, especially during the strike period when there was a higher chance of resources being stretched attending real emergencies. Our control room staff challenged the caller, and no fire engines were mobilised to attend. Making hoax calls is not a joking matter and could put lives at risk.”
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades’ Union general secretary, said: “This was solidly supported strike action by firefighters across England and Wales. It has demonstrated their anger and their determination. This strike was a last resort after the government refused to negotiate – and a warning shot that firefighters are serious about keeping a fair, safe and workable pensions scheme.
“Firefighters across the country are reporting a fantastic response from the public, who seem to understand that the government's proposals on pensions are ludicrous. We haven’t ruled out further industrial action, but let's hope common sense wins out, public safety is put first and the government comes back open to compromise."
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