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General public and retired officers asked to provide temporary cover in event of fire brigade strike
Members of the public are being recruited to provide emergency cover should a threatened firefighters strike go ahead, the Keighley News can reveal.
Successful candidates would be trained in basic techniques before being expected to attend potentially major incidents, such as house fires and road accidents.
People are also being hired on temporary contracts to drive appliances and operate pumps.
As part of the plan, West Yorkshire brigade bosses have also written to former firefighters asking if they would return to help out.
Among those who have condemned the move is ex-Keighley firefighter Joe O’Keeffe, who retired in 2012 after 27 years’ service. He recently received a letter at his Fell Lane, Keighley, home.
“My first reaction was anger,” said Mr O’Keeffe, 51, who fears lives could be put at risk.
“I realise the management is in a difficult position – it has a responsibility to try to provide cover, but what I don’t think is right is actively recruiting strike breakers and undermining legitimate industrial action.”
Dave Williams, West Yorkshire brigade secretary for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said the idea of recruiting members of the public to provide cover was “ludicrous”.
“Every fire has its own dynamics – people with minimal training being sent into these situations won’t be able to react,” he said.
But Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said fire service bosses are doing what they need to in order to protect the public.
“I think it’s right management should take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the public is safe,” he added.
The FBU is balloting its members for industrial action regarding planned changes to pensions.
The Government is increasing employee contributions and imposing a normal pension age of 60. Currently, the retirement age is 55, but firefighters can leave earlier if they have 25 years’ service.
The FBU argues many firefighters would be unable to maintain required fitness levels until 60 and would be forced to leave, which would hit their pension.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service told us the dispute can only be resolved through national agreement, and it hopes industrial action will be avoided.
But it confirmed contingency plans, including the recruitment of temporary fire crews, are being put in place.
A spokesman said: “We remain committed to protecting public safety during such periods, and the chief fire officer is actively pursuing a range of contingency planning initiatives to provide fire cover across the county during any industrial action.
“As part of our arrangements, we are asking members of the community to step forward and support us in providing temporary emergency fire crews.
“We have advertised for community response officers and driver/pump operatives to assist us in staffing some of our fire engines.”
The jobs would pay £10 per hour during training and then £150 for 12-hour operational shifts.
The brigade states applicants need to be medically and physically fit, and a test forms part of the selection process.
It adds all recruits will be closely supervised.
Fifteen-day training courses are held for the community response officers, who will carry out basic firefighting duties, and a five-day course for the driver/pump operatives, who must be qualified LGV drivers.
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