Firefighters across the region take part in strike action in bitter dispute over pensions (From The Northern Echo)
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Union leaders threaten further action if row is not settled
HUNDREDS of firefighters across the region left their stations at noon today to set up picket lines, leaving brigades to put contingency plans in place for four hours.
Uunion leaders in the North-East and North Yorkshire reported strong support for the walkout, held after a bitter dispute over pensions and retirement age.
Drivers honked their support for strikers at Durham City's station in Framwellgate Moor, where 48 firefighters took part.
Fire Brigades Union branch secretary Andy Dodds said his members were "gutted" to be taking action.
But he added: "What we want is a properly negotiated settlement. We don't want anything over and above what other public sector employees are getting.
"We want a pension that reflects our role, the working conditions that we have and the contribution that we make."
Mr Dodds added that he hoped there would be no further action, but said he thought firefighters across the country would be prepared to stage a longer strike if the dispute was not resolved.
During the four hour period of industrial action Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service operated 15 fire appliances from 10 stations, using professional firefighters to staff each of them.
Stuart Errington, deputy chief fire officer, said: "We would encourage both the Government and the FBU to return to the negotiating table to try and resolve their differences so that further strike action can be avoided."
In North Yorkshire, pickets were held at many stations, including Northallerton and Scarborough.
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended only five incidents during the strike period, none of them fires.
But it did receive a hoax call from within the Northallerton area at 12.35pm, although no engine was mobilised after the caller was callenged.
Area Manager Dave McCabe said: "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."
Dave Howe, branch secretary of Cleveland FBU, said it had been a "very difficult decision" to take strike action, but reported strong support for it.
He added: "We now hope that the Government comes back to the table and improves on their offer, and that this doesn't have to happen again."
Cleveland Fire Brigade, which used professional firefighters to provide emergency cover, attended just two minor incidents during the strike period.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Brigade received nine calls. Two of them were serious - a car crash in Washington, near Sunderland, and a man with his leg trapped between a train and the platform at Cullercoats Metro Station on North Tyneside.
The national FBU executive will meet today to consider its next move and has not ruled out further industrial action.
The union is campaigning against changes it says will mean firefighters will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less in retirement.
The move will also see firefighters having to work on frontline duties until they are 60, the union argued.
But the Government maintained that the changes were fair.
Fire minister Brandon Lewis said:" The Government has listened to union concerns - firefighters will still get one of the most generous pension schemes in the public sector."
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