At dead on 12pm crews from Tynemouth Community Fire Station, like thousands of their colleagues across England, stood down from their position and walked out.
From their picket line armed with Fire Bridge Union (FBU) placards and flags the group, who had normally have been manning the station’s two engines, drew honks of support from passing motorists.
The union has been angered by Government proposals to change their pension forcing them to work till they are 60 with what they claim is little hope of redeployment for those unable to maintain the fitness needed to enter burning buildings.
Dave Turner, Tyne and Wear brigade secretary for the FBU joined protesters yesterday. He said: “There is a clear capability issue. According to the Government’s own review only one in three firefighters between 50 and 54 has retained their fitness. That’s two thirds no longer meeting the necessary fitness standards. We were told those unable to retain their fitness would be redeployed elsewhere in the service but over the past four years we’ve lost more than 300 jobs because of cuts. This strike is a gesture, a warning shot.
“We don’t expect the Government to turn around and say ‘yes you are right’, we want a meaningful discussion and for the Government to put forward a solution. The pension scheme should better reflect the role of a firefighter.”
At stations across the region plans were in place to cover in the event of an emergency with non-union members taking over at the Tynemouth Station.
Among the campaigners at yesterday’s strike was Natalie Mortimer who has been a firefighter for the past 11 years having previously spent four years in the RAF police.
According to a the government commissioned Williams report women are at greater risk of not meeting maintaining the fitness needed to tackle blazes.
She said: “I think the pension proposal is ridiculous. If I’m to work an additional eight years, the four years’ military pension I’d built up would be discredited. On top of that, being a woman I’m at greater risk of not being able to retain the fitness levels needed and with little job opportunities to be redeployed to I could end up with no job and a pensionable age of 67.”
After two years of negotiations minsters say the proposed pension package is one of the most generous public service pensions available.
A firefighter earning £29,000, retiring at 60 after a full career, would get a £19,000 a year pension.
But FBU regional secretary Pete Wilcox has flagged up the safety risks of sending ageing firefighters into emergencies. He said: “No firefighter wants to withdraw their labour, we spend our careers dedicated to keeping the community safe but the Government is expecting a larger number of older firefighters to go into burning buildings. It is ludicrous and increases dangers to firefighters and the public.”