Striking British Firefighters Slandered
By Harry Arnold and Clinton Manning
Striking firefighters could be arrested if they leave picket lines to help tackle emergencies, according to a leaked memo. The threat comes in an internal briefing to police as a new fire strike looms following the latest breakdown in pay talks. The memo suggests that the firefighters are only offering to help out for propaganda reasons in an attempt to win public support.
It reveals that police and the military have been told to stop them trying to save lives because they would not be insured. They could also endanger motorists as they chase incidents. And it adds: Such humanitarian responses are being used in their propaganda war and undermine the military position.
If firefighters refuse to leave the scene of an incident, says the memo, the military may ask police pilot crews for assistance.
Union leaders were furious last nightand slammed the memo as part of a dirty tricks campaign. FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said: My members are the ultimate humanitarians. They are dedicated to saving lives and will do anything they can even if it means putting themselves in danger.
The idea that they are doing it as a PR exercise is frankly sickening. A police spokesman said last night: Any suggestion that the police would prevent firefighters from attending scenes is wrong. Our role is to guide Green Goddesses [Outmoded military fire-trucks ]. The decision about who attends is down to the fire scene commander and not police officers.
Shropshire fire chief Ian Kerr said last night: I must admit I was surprised and deeply disappointed to read the document apparently circulated among police. I find it grossly offensive to suggest striking officers attending life-threatening incidents are doing so for propaganda purposes.
Tony Blair faced an angry reaction yesterday after peace talks in London ended in deadlock. On a visit to his Sedgefield constituency he ran a gauntlet of catcalls and jeers. One striker shouted: Make sure you blank us out like you have everyone else!
FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham last night criticized the Government and said the two sides were now even further apart.
The current eight-day strike ends at 9 a. m. today. The next is scheduled to start on Wednesday, with a third set to begin on December 18. The row over pickets saving lives came as firefighters in Boreham Wood, accused the government of twisting the truth. They left their picket line to cut two people free from a fatal car smashbut were shocked when press officers gave the credit to Green Goddess crews who had played no part.
The lads are incensed, said striker Carl Blackett.
In another development, ambulance chiefs have instructed staff not to accept help from striking firefighters. A memo from Two Shires Ambulance servicecovering Northants and Buckssays they should only liaise with police and the military.
The memo came after reports that firefighters had given ambulance men their phone numbers if help was needed.
The Mirror, UK, December 1, 2002