Camden firefighters warn more strikes could be on the way

Firefighters down tools at Euston fire station. Picture: Polly Hancock

Firefighters down tools at Euston fire station. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Camden firefighters who took part in last week’s national strike have warned further and more prolonged industrial action could be on the way as they fight the government over pensions.

Strike action on Bonfire Night has also not been ruled out.

Picket lines were formed at West Hampstead and Euston fire stations as firefighters downed tools for four hours last Wednesday, along with colleagues in Haringey, Barnet and across the country.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is fighting government proposals that would see retirement age rise from 55 to 60, which many firefighters fear could put the public at risk as older firefighters struggle to stay fit enough for the job.

One West Hampstead firefighter, who is nearing retirement, said he “could not imagine” having to tackle blazes until the age of 60.

Dave Sinclair, 53, said: “If you’re over 55 it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to reach the level of fitness required for the job. The age it is set at now is about right – past that and you’re going to struggle.

“It’s a physically demanding job and it’s obvious you can’t maintain the same level of fitness as when you first joined in your 20s.

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“Even if you train regularly and keep fit, as we all do, you’re going to pick up a few knocks here and there and they can take forever to heal as you get to your 50s.”

Fellow West Hampstead firefighter Sam Lee, 48, said the pension changes would only increase the risk to public safety that is already being created by closing Belsize fire station, in Lancaster Grove, Belsize Park.

“Along with forcing us to fight fires at ages when we could be dangerously unfit, closing fire stations is making the job even harder,” he said.

“Our grounds to cover here in West Hampstead will grow by about 30 per cent because of the closure of Belsize fire station.

“It’ll undoubtedly put extra stress on the service we deliver.

“If the government don’t listen I can see further and longer strikes in the near future.”

Daniel Giblin, 31, FBU branch secretary at Euston fire station, said further strikes could be on the way and even Bonfire Night would not be ruled out.

He said: “None of us wants to go on strike but this should be seen as a warning shot to government.

“They expect firefighters to work past the age of 55 in a physically demanding job and even the government’s own review said that many firefighters over this age wouldn’t be able to meet the fitness standards required.

“Firefighters put nearly £400 a month into their pensions and risk life and limb. Is it right that the government is threatening them with being sacked?”

Camden will remain a fire engine down as the dispute continues, after the London Fire Brigade (LFB) removed one from Kentish Town station.

The engine was one of 27 manned by about 200 private contract staff as emergency cover for the four-hour strike.

The LFB said the engine will not be returned until the argument is resolved.

During the four-hour strike, there was only one call-out in Camden, Haringey and Barnet – a false alarm in Kentish Town.

Fire minister Brandon Lewis said: “The pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces.

“A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private sector pension pot would be worth more than half-a-million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.”