A firefighter speaks out: ‘who would you trust, us or politicians?’


9:05 am - October 28th 2010

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This was posted as a comment on an earlier article, and we thought it was good enough to publish properly as an article. It has been slightly edited for clarity.

I’m a London fireman.

What annoys me is a lot of people choose to believe the spin made up by politicians who are infamous for spouting lies to support their cause rather than believing the voice of firefighters who are prepared to risk everything to get people out of dire situations.

Who would you trust with your life – a firefighter or a politician?

Firstly, I think the beds argument is irrelevant, I’ve not heard this mentioned once at work, there are much more important things at stake.

We are allowed to sleep between 0000 hrs and 0700 hrs on our (15 hour) night shifts but I haven’t been to sleep at all on nights in the last few weeks because we’re so busy there’s no point.

We’re busy because there London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) chose to remove 27 frontline fire appliances from stations a few weeks ago to prepare them for the oncoming strikes. Why they needed to do this, I don’t know.

But I can tell you that in this time, 5 persons have been killed in fires where they had one fire appliance turn up on the initial call rather than two because of the 27 appliances removed. Two firefighters have also been injured. One firefighter broke his back and both his legs when a wall collapsed on him and is now wheelchair bound. And one firefighter from my station, but a different watch, broke his collarbone at a fire 2 days ago.

You won’t see any of these deaths or injuries reported anywhere, it’s as if there’s a ban on reporting them – strange that.

Some people are asking ‘why strike on bonfire night?’
Well, in 2 weeks time, the 3 months notice of section 188 of the Labour Relations Act runs out, and the Authority is able to sack every firefighter, crew manager and watch manager (basically every person you will see riding a fire appliance). We have little time to act. I would like to think this action will force the LFEPA to give in.

I was on the picket last Saturday, which was a very quiet day for the LFB, call wise and listened to the brigade radio as to what was going on. Of the 27 appliances they had covering London, 13 crews gave up, mostly because they considered the too dangerous. They refused to go in to fires and fought them defensively which caused a house and a 4 story block of flats to almost burn to the ground – like I say, just 2 major fires in one day in London is extremely quiet, and they couldn’t even cope with that.

When it came over the radio of a ‘smoke issuing from 6th and 8th floor of high rise flats, multiple calls, persons trapped in flats’ call, the emergency cover crews didn’t answer the radio and made up excuses not to go. Fair enough, a high rise fire is possibly the most dangerous any firefighter can deal with, but this forced picket lines close to the call to go to the call and deal with the incident to prevent any injuries or deaths.

Yet, after our strike action Brian Coleman and Ron Dobson publicly came out and said the emergency fire cover was a success and will deal with any other strike days just as well.

All they have to do to stop the strike action – on the 1st of November as well as the 47 hours over bonfire night – is call off the section 188 and return to the negotiating table.


Pic of Brian Coleman first published on Tory Troll

The argument of firemen having second jobs comes up a lot. We work 48 hour weeks, and it’s quite sad that after working 48 hours where they may have to risk life and limb some members still need second jobs in order to fund a family. I don’t have a second job for the record but then I don’t have a family to feed.

Fire deaths are pretty low because the majority of people caught in building fires are rescued by firefighters. However, fire deaths in London are up by 20%, so surely work should be done to reduce this number- changing our shifts and closing stations at night is not the way to do this.

We have 3 memorials on my station for firefighters who have worked at the station, responded to a call and not made it home. I look at these every shift and it’s a reminder of the risks I am expected to take in order to save the lives of members of the public.

I signed up to the job knowing the risk because I’m passionate about saving lives and property in one of the greatest cities in the world. That’s why I’m going on strike – because the politicians and senior LFB officers are more interested in saving a few pennies than a few lives.

Remember, whilst your firefighters have accepted a 3 year pay freeze, Brian Coleman voted himself a 50% increase of allowances, Ron Dobson is paid far more than the PM.

And on their cushy 6-figure wages, they plot the closure of fire stations to save money. Disgusting.


This site has a good guide to the dispute: www.firebrigadedispute.co.uk

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Reader comments


No offense mate, but choosing to strike on Bonfire Night is precisely the kind of bully-boy tactics that put people off supporting strikers.

Also, who do I trust, you or politicians: neither. Sorry mate.

I’lll back you mate 100% and I’m sure my Union the GMB will back you.

good luck

1

Nah, it really is you blanco…. symptomatic of the worst kind of red-top reading, know-nothing reactionaries who just can’t wait to scratch the atavistic ideological itch rather than looking at the case on it’s merits.

As the OP demonstrates convincingly to anyone not prone to taking Daily Mail editorials as gospel it’s not about fire fighter “bullying” the public, it’s about management intransigence.

This will probably be the first and last time I agree with Galen 10.

As a loyal Cameroon and liberal Conservative, I find this Coleman bloke a serious embarrassment. He has a motor mouth and doesn’t have an opinion he doesn’t overstate in a crude and coarse manner. I hope Boris has the courage to get rid of him. It will take some political courage though because Coleman has form on claiming that a political career setback is down to homophobia among leading Tories. Which is bollocks.

This sacking notice methodology is mafia-style management and should have no place in a civilized city like London. I know a lot of Conservatives who think the same.

4

They say there is more joy in heaven over a repentant sinner flowerpower! 😉

If only there were more Tories like you…… faint hope apparently!

“Bully boy tactics?” You dope! just who are the bullies here? Unilaterally enforcing a change to contracts, risking public safety and refusing to negotiate with elected union representatives while management votes in 50% increase in allowances for themselves and enjoying salaries higher than the Prime minister? Thank Christ we’re all in this together?

I think the firefighters are in the right on this issue, although as usual in strike situations there’s so much misinformation flying about that it’s difficult to find solid facts. The fact is that firefighters save lives carrying out a dangerous job. Even if the pay is above average, even if some have second jobs: it’s a job that should be relatively well paid.

But I still think striking on Bonfire Night is unlikely to have the result intended, though, despite the urgency of the dispute. Even if the problem is overwhelmingly due to unfair and unreasonable conduct on the part of the employers, that is not how the media will report it and because of that, it’s not how the majority will see it. That’s not fair, but it’s how things are.

Any deaths on Bonfire Night which can be blamed on the strike are going to give a very union-hostile government a vast amount of political ammunition. The picture of strikers standing round idle fire engines shouting slogans to promote their own financial interests while innocent people burn to death is an emotive one, and one large sections of the media will be very keen to paint, even if they need to distort reality considerably to do it.

I really dread to think what wide-ranging anti-union and anti-workforce legislation the government could pass in the ensuing hysteria – and I don’t doubt they want to. I’ve met plenty of right wingers who see workforce attempts to dispute management decisions as basically impudence and insubordination.

Ah yes, I’ll definitely go for putting my trust in the people with a direct vested interest. Good argument.

Also, wow, you’ve got some outstanding nerve there. Boasting about how much danger you’re putting people in by striking? Nice.

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 10

“Also, wow, you’ve got some outstanding nerve there. Boasting about how much danger you’re putting people in by striking? Nice.”

What are they supposed to say? “Hi, we’re going on strike but it won’t make any difference”? THAT should be an effective way of getting what they want.

#11; they could, for example, not play chicken with people’s lives to get their own way. That’d be nice.

12

Because of course the management who have driven things in this direction, and appear to any reasonable person to be behaving like dick heads (BA anybody…?) have zero responsibility?

Driven to this extreme as they have been, the fire fighters are of course going to chose to take action when it has most impact; why would they do otherwise?

Take your red-top sensibilities and prejudices where your fellow knuckle draggers might appreciate them; on here you just look odd.

If you are going to use the last resort of going on strike then it must have maximum impact… there is no better time to strike than when you are most needed, it highlights the point in question!

15. Chaise Guevara

@ 12

“they could, for example, not play chicken with people’s lives to get their own way. That’d be nice.”

Boring. Anti-unionists have been using this attack for years.

Striking = withdrawal of labour. If your job involves saving or protecting lives, the withdrawal of your labour is pretty much by definition going to put those lives at higher risk. You seem to be suggesting that we should ban anyone with such a job for striking. The penalty for saving lives is having your rights removed, is it?

16. the a&e charge nurse

[12] “they could, for example, not play chicken with people’s lives to get their own way” – I agree, managers, should not escape accountability just because they are a long way from the scene when somebody is injured or killed.

“Boring. Anti-unionists have been using this attack for years”, well said, CG [15]

When are we finally going to wake up to the fact that people who do not directly provide services are not always best placed to know what is happening on the ground (perhaps because the view is not quite so good from a cushy office).

More background from a LC regular here;
http://torytroll.blogspot.com/2010/02/boris-johnsons-secret-plans-to-cut-fire.html

Galen (#13); the text above the comment box here says the policy is “aimed at fostering constructive debate”. Do you think “constructive debate” means a series of comments agreeing with each other?

If the management are wrong and the conditions are unreasonable, pretty soon they’ll have a recruitment and retention problem and they’ll change their minds.

If the management are right, and could find enough competent firefighters under the new system, then backing down would mean limited resources are misallocated.

Chaise (#15); no, I wouldn’t want to ban strikes, there are some circumstances (involving genuine unfairness) where they’d be reasonable. I’d just hope they’d be ashamed of themselves for using the power they’ve got just to fight a perfectly reasonable change in their conditions.

I think a rough guide to reasonableness is to imagine a new organisation offering these conditions. I don’t think they’d be particularly noteworthy in this case – it’s just resistance to change.

Charge Nurse (#16); people on the front line know how to do their jobs. They don’t necessarily know how to allocate resources among competing demands, some of which they don’t even know exist. The management aren’t always right, of course – there are people everywhere who are bad at their jobs (nurses included!) – but that doesn’t mean the “front line” are more likely to be right overall.

Galen (#13); the text above the comment box here says the policy is “aimed at fostering constructive debate”. Do you think “constructive debate” means a series of comments agreeing with each other?

In what possible sense could your earlier comments be construed as forming part of a “constructive debate”?

18

I think Jason’s problem has a technical label Dunc; passive-aggressive projection.

You begin by making some hysterical or hyperbolic statement, then furiously backtrack when it is pointed out what a dumb-ass it makes you look, whilst simultaneously accusing those on the other side of false consciousness.

Although not restricted to the politcal right…(see Cllr. read’s gems on the other thread for example) for some reason it just seems more common there 😉

20. the a&e charge nurse

[17] “They don’t necessarily know how to allocate resources among competing demands” – yet curiously managers always seem very good at awarding resources to themselves, often in the form of bumper pay hikes?

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 17

“I’d just hope they’d be ashamed of themselves for using the power they’ve got just to fight a perfectly reasonable change in their conditions.”

Okay, but you muddied that by criticising the strike process itself (i.e. downing tools and then publicising this act) rather than the reasons for striking.

“I think a rough guide to reasonableness is to imagine a new organisation offering these conditions. I don’t think they’d be particularly noteworthy in this case – it’s just resistance to change.”

The article claims that the changes put firefighters and the public at increased risk. Assuming, and it is an assumption, that that’s true, I think that qualifies as ‘noteworthy’. A new organisation offering these conditions might successfully recruit, but probably because its employees weren’t aware of that risk.

I don’t claim that we should always rank human lives above money, because it’s an oversimplification of a complex debate. In this case, though, I suspect it applies.

22. the a&e charge nurse

You see – this is the sort of thing I’m talking about;
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/oct/28/uk-boardroo-pay-soars

[quote]Because of course the management who have driven things in this direction, and appear to any reasonable person to be behaving like dick heads (BA anybody…?)[/quote]

A search on Twitter for ‘bonfire strike’ suggests that Joe and Jane Public’s sympathies do not lie with the firefighters – many comments such as the following:
[quote]”I might have supported the firefighters over their strikes if they hadn’t picked Bonfire Night as the night to strike. So irresponsible.”[/quote]

A YouGov poll (http://today.yougov.co.uk/life/fuel-fire) found that 73% of people think the firefighters are wrong to go on strike on Bonfire Night. IMO this is a highly ill-advised move and I think if the FBU think they will have the public’s sympathy, especially at this time of austerity all around, they are wrong. As jungle (@8) said earlier, if this strike goes ahead, I suspect that the negative publicity afterwards will be seriously counterproductive for the FBU and possibly for unions in general.

P.S. Sorry if the code in this post doesn’t work – why oh why does this site not have a preview comment function?

Galen (#19); did I do some backpedalling? Where? Also, I don’t know what “false consciousness” even means, so if I accused your “side” of it, I don’t think it was on purpose.

But, y’know, feel free to carry on arguing with an imaginary opponent rather than what I’ve actually written.

23

The fact that they are in the majority in some polls doesn’t mean they are correct. Partly it depends on the way the questions are framed of course, but I’ll lay odds that most of those knee jerk responses reflect little or no knowledge of the details of the dispute.

I have to admit when I first heard about the Bonfire Night action I thought it was a bit of an own goal…but now I’m better informed, I’ve changed my mind and fully support the fire fighters. I suspect much the same happened in the BA disspute when people realised that management were a huge part of the problem (tho granted the unions were prett bad too!).

24

Your responses, much like the original mind burp you posted aren’t worth dignifying with further response.

27. the a&e charge nurse

[23] imagine if the public had been asked if they were in favour of fewer fire stations/crew, or longer response times to fires – how many would have voted yes?

Whenever public safety is threatened the public understandably have concerns.
This factor is always going to be an important variable in any dispute, and one that usually stops those with such responsibilities from taking industrial action lightly.

I agree with the OP these things often come down to a matter of trust – I take the strike on Bonfire night as a sure sign that all reasonable measures to address the concerns of crews have been ignored.
Given the current economic climate don’t be surprised if managers are quick to resort to a culture of bullying and intimidation?

Who’s playing chicken with peoples lives?

Management are doing this …

… by cutting the fire service, putting firefighters jobs at risk, telling lies about the ability of the fire service to cover the shortfall and then paying themselves huge salaries.

They’re also blackmailing the fire services by cutting their essential recources and then stating that they must not protest or the public will suffer.

What a load of disingenuous calumnous bollocks.

I support the firefighters 100%

Public sympathy might be greater if it was made clear to people that the strike was about cuts to services long ago, rather than a change of rotas from 15 and 9 hours to 12 and 12 which is what I and probably a lot of other people were under the impression was at the root of this:

From the BBC article after the November 5 date was called (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-11623410):
“[The FBU] said the dispute centred on plans to scrap current rotas and force staff to sign new contracts or face the sack.”

As it is I think this is a major mistake and if it goes ahead I’d go as far as to say calls to make strikes by essential services (which BA crew and Tube drivers aren’t, by the way) illegal are justified. It is, as many have said, a highly irresponsible move to strike on Bonfire Night.

My dad’s a firefighter in the West Midlands and thinks these strikes are ridiculous. They have had people working less at night here for three years now, with absolutely no adverse effects.

To be honest I’m sympathetic with every part of this except the choice of bonfire night to strike on. The idea that firemen shouldn’t strike at all because it will put people in danger is of course ridiculous, but the additional step from that to “and so it’s fine for firemen to target their strikes to cause the greatest possible harm to the public” is what troubles me.

32. the a&e charge nurse

I wonder if the right wing press will now start publishing negative stories about firefighters?
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1324586/Firefighters-refused-help-men-drowning-freezing-lake-didnt-water-training.html

Clearly no-one is interested, but a similar restructuring took place in Merseyside with a big focus on prevention…see link @7…with apparently good results.

33

Since you keep banging on about the Meseyside experience, I did take a look at the article and depite your protestations it doesn’t “prove” anything, indeed there has to be real doubt that the kind of restructuring carried out there is generally applicable.

Since you are so keen to trumpet the Merseyside “success”, perhaps you could respond to the comment by Jim Stevo @1.49 AM on that thread (copied below)?
Seems like the higher management there hasn’t exactly reduced doesn’t it?

“CFO McGuirk has reduced the number of operational firefighters on Merseyside by 40% but the Fire Service budget still increases every year.
His pay increased by 5% this year to £206,000.
He has not got rid of anyone,he has just not replaced firefighters that have retired. He has the majority of remaining crews working a system called ‘LLAR’,which requires them to stay on the stations for 4 days(96 hours).Doubling their hours for 20% more pay.
The 5 senior managers in Merseyside Fire Service received £818,768 last year.
10 years ago only 4 members of MFRS received over £50,000 now there are 79.
If 80% of the MFRS budget is staff costs,how come there has not been a 40% reduction in line with the reduction in firefighter numbers?
By the way,CFO McGuirk has sent an apology for this comments, to his employees in Merseyside Fire Service.
– Jim Stevo, St Helens”

I’m not necessarily trumpeting any “success” since my only source is that story.

The comment you reproduce does however show that the DANGER DANGER scare is misplaced. And I’m certainly not going defend excessive public sector managerial pay!

35

No, it doesn’t prove any such thing; so either you didn’t read the article and comment thread you linked to very thouroughly, or you “assumed” that it supported your pre-existing prejudices.

I think that’s a fair demonstration of how seriously we should take your supposed evidence huh?

I’m struggling to understand your comment.

Nothing in the comment to which you link, nor in any other comment on that thread, suggests why the Merseyside experience (and no-one is disputing that fires and deaths have dropped sharply) might not be generally applicable, though some commenters simply ask the question, which is obviously a fair one.

Where exactly does the “real doubt” lie?

Perhaps in your own prejudices?!

37

You stated that the comment I reproduced from the thread you linked to “show that the DANGER DANGER scare is misplaced” – it doesn’t. Not rocket science.

Next.

I was just pointing out that he is not taking issue on safety grounds, but on financial ones.

So is that where the “real doubt” lies in your view?

39

I think there is sufficient doubt on both grounds.

As the thread on here has discussed the financial constraints don’t seem to operate on management in London, anymore than they appear to on Merseyside. That may be par for the course amongst the “let them eat cake” types whose knee jerk reaction is that it’s all the fault of the nasty Unions of course.

Similarly I think there probably IS a safety issue, even if that isn’t what the guy on the merseyside thread comment was talking about, it has been referred to in the thread here.

I doubt anyone is maintaining that there are NO efficiencies to be made; the problem appears to be the WAY they are being made and the confrontational tactics being used.

41. James Creaser

Most of the Firefighters who have a spare time job do it for the cash in hand.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  2. Alex Collins

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  3. Youssef

    RT @libcon A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4 Answer: none of you.

  4. punkscience

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  5. Taobh Clé

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  6. Jane Phillips

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  7. Jared Ficklin

    Do you trust the politicians or the firefighters? Is there seriously a contest? http://bit.ly/dh9bUO

  8. Chris Welch

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  9. Dan

    A firefighter speaks out: ‘who would you trust, us or politicians?’ http://t.co/94JbbyM via @libcon /via @MysteriousClark

  10. Gareth Penn

    A firefighter speaks out: ‘who would you trust, us or politicians?’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/QcKiko2 via @libcon

  11. Elena Blackmore

    Interesting piece on cuts, strikes and political spin from a firefighter http://goo.gl/fwJ8

  12. el_bender

    A firefighter speaks out: ‘who would you trust, us or politicians?’ http://goo.gl/fb/NvN9y

  13. Denny

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  14. Helen Clavering

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  15. FireCritic

    A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians … http://bit.ly/bbnMYS

  16. FireDaily.com

    A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians …: Fire deaths are pretty lo… http://bit.ly/bmKdUN #fire #firefighter

  17. Nick H.

    A firefighter speaks out: ‘who would you trust, us or politicians?’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/bn2hSvY via @libcon

  18. bashmore

    Very strong article from anonymous fireman on @libcon about the Lon strikes.Stands out from the misinformation http://bit.ly/aB8zmH

  19. Tom Baker

    RT @bashmore: Very strong article from anonymous fireman on @libcon about the Lon strikes.Stands out from the misinformation http://bit.ly/aB8zmH

  20. Leigh Wildthyme

    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/10/28/a-firefighter-speaks-out-who-would-you-trust-us-or-politicians/

  21. Sarah P

    RT @libcon: A firefighter speaks out: 'who would you trust, us or politicians?' http://bit.ly/cZ1BB4

  22. Are the Fire Brigade absuing their power? « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] pontificated on power that would otherwise be absent if striking was not an option. By that I mean the power to subvert the abuse of power levelled by management. Indeed striking is historically the only power – per se – workers have to bargain […]

  23. Are the Fire Brigade absuing their power? « Raincoat Optimism

    […] pontificated on power that would otherwise be absent if striking was not an option. By that I mean the power to subvert the abuse of power levelled by management. Indeed striking is historically the only power – per se – workers have to bargain […]





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