FIREFIGHTERS were studying details today of a peace plan aimed at ending their bitter pay dispute which has been recommended for acceptance by union leaders.

The executive of the Fire Brigades Union decided last night that the deal, giving a pay rise of 16 per cent over two-and-a-half years, should be supported.

But FBU York branch secretary Jeff Morrow warned of not "jumping the gun".

A recalled national conference will be held next month when firefighters from across the country will finally decide whether to bring the nine month long conflict to a close. FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said the proposed deal differed "significantly" from previous offers which were rejected by the union amid fears that thousands of jobs would be cut to pay for the wage rise.

But Mr Morrow said: "Until we see the offer in black and white I'm hesitant to say it would be accepted. It would be jumping the gun to say the dispute is over."

Mr Gilchrist said after a four-hour meeting of the executive in London that a potential breakthrough had been made following a series of discussions between the union and local authority employers.

The decision was welcomed by the Government and employers who will now be keen to put the dispute behind them and press ahead with plans to modernise the fire service.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said it was important now that the voice of all FBU members was heard.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Local Government Association, said the proposed agreement offered a fair deal for both sides in the dispute.

The pay of qualified firefighters would increase to £25,000 a year by July 2004 if they accepted the deal and there was a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.

Updated: 11:30 Wednesday, May 21, 2003