Today I’ve been out in Redcar High Street with some very very important people-the FBU. The FBU, or the Fire Brigade Union, represent 44,000 firefighters, retained firefighters (part time, ‘on call’ firefighters) and emergency control room staff. Put simply, the people who work together to save our lives if we are unlucky enough to be involved in a fire, car accident, flood, or many other scenarios the fire brigade would be called to. We hope to never ever need them, but if we need them, my god do we need them.
So why did the fire brigade lure me to Redcar on a grey Saturday morning, I hear you ask?
Well, as part of my job I get e-mails from the Northern TUC (Trades Union Congress-a federation of trade unions in England and Wales-I suppose the head teacher, effectively, of all the unions.) telling me what’s going on in our region. They mentioned the FBU’s Ring Of Fire tour and it grabbed my attention. The tour is a three week tour of the UK to rally support for the fire and rescue service and to spread their message, ‘investment not cuts’. I had to go.
The FBU have held a number of strikes recently, which have had my full support. As a trade unionist I fully support the right for workers to withdraw their labour-it’s always a shame when it has to happen and it’s always a last resort, but for the FBU it’s been needed. They’ve been striking to defend their pensions-because the government are saying they should work until 68 before they can retire. Well, with all due respect-I don’t want to be rescued from a burning building by a 68 year old. I appreciate there are some people who are still incredibly fit at that age but these men and women put their bodies through hell doing the work the do and at 68 the majority of them will just not be able to do as good a job as a younger, fitter person. They should be able to retire at a younger age and they’ll have my full support until they win their fight-which they will. They are also unhappy at how their contributions have massively increased-and of course, their wages haven’t. Because of work I’ve not been able to make it to one of their pickets to give them this message of support in person so the tour was a good way to do so. My boyfriend was also up for the weekend and as a trade union activist himself he was more than happy to join me, so off we went.
Two bands entertained the crowd with some brilliant music and then speakers from the FBU (Matt Wrack, General Secretary and Davey Howe, Regional Secretary) told us the issues they are facing.
Nationally, the fire service are facing cuts, much like the rest of our public services. They fear that eventually they are going to be privatised, as our NHS is being currently. In Cleveland, my local area, management are trying to arrange a mutual organisation-a staff buy out. The staff don’t WANT to own the fire service, they want to fire service to remain publicly owned. They are very worried that this is the first step towards privatisation, with the profitable parts of the service-for example, rope rescue and water rescue-being sold off quickly, and the non profitable bits-(like fighting fires!) struggling for funding. We can’t let this happen. We NEED our fire service.
Currently in Redcar and Cleveland there are approx 400 firefighters, with a quarter of these on duty at any one time. Over the next four years it is proposed that 140 of these jobs will be cut, with 60-70 of them replaced with retained firefighters. A retained firefighter is someone who is on call. In real terms, this means a house fire, which currently gets two fire engines, will get one within eight minutes (currently get two within eight minutes) and the second once the retained fire fighters have got from home to the station, jumped in the fire engine, and got to the fire. The FBU estimate this will take 15 minutes. 15 minutes is too long and people WILL DIE due to this delay.
We need to support our firefighters, before it’s too late. How can you help, I hear you ask? Sign the FBU anti cuts petition HERE. Tell your local MP what you think about this. Tell your friends and family and ask them to sign too. And perhaps most importantly-next time you drive past them on a picket line, stop, and tell the firefighters themselves that you support them. At the very least give them a beep and a wave.