Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue service provide a great service to us as residents of Gloucestershire, and they are one of the best value and most efficient in the country. However we are now in the sad position that the Fire Brigades Union held their first strike in over a decade, and while this one was only 4 hours long, it really signals the failure of Central Government to recognise the essential and lifesaving work of our firefighters do, and how they provide such a safety net for us as residents of Gloucestershire.
No one, least of all the firefighters themselves, wants to see a strike happen, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere and the fact is that the Government, with their pension reforms, are putting our lives at risk. A firefighter’s job is tough, both physically and mentally and they put their lives on the line for us, to rescue us in our hour of need. Currently they get a pension that is highlighted by the government as generous, and quite rightly so. They, as has been shown in Manchester recently, can lose their lives in the act of saving others. It is just right that they are rewarded for that with a decent pension. The government now wants to up the age on which a firefighter will receive that pension and that is just wrong.
In other physically demanding services, when someone is not able to take on the physical rigour of the job down to natural wear and tear of the human body, their experienced is harnessed by moving them to a desk based role. Because of the huge efficiencies made in GFRS already this can not happen as everyone, from the Chief Fire Officer down is an operational firefighter, there are no “desk jobs”. Therefore when someone is unable to keep the fitness standards, there is no real avenue except to thank them for their service and show them the door. This means not only has that firefighter lost their role, the fire service has also lost their valuable experience.
By raising the pension age, the government knows that they are also increasing the chance that firefighter will not reach proper retirement age, and therefore reducing the pension payments that are deserved. That is no way to say thank you to a firefighter who has given up so much though their service for us.
I think that yesterdays strike was just the first and we will have more to come until a resolution is reached. During the strikes, you will hopefully be lucky enough to not notice any change in service as the work done in community safety by GFRS is a great asset to the service and the number of incidents are reducing the overall number of incidents. There has also been a lot of planning to ensure that there is basic emergency coverage across the county. But if you are unfortunate enough to need the service, there may be a couple more minutes wait before it arrives, and also that successful and essential background work in community safety, protection and prevention as well as wider ranging resilience is non-existent. Because of this, I urge you to think more about your personal and family safety while the strikes are on, but do not resent the Fire Fighters for what they are doing, please think of the position they are in and give them your support.
At the end of the day, they are just like you or I, but they are willing to put it all on the line to ensure our safety, to be able to actually reach pensionable age before being released from service is a small ask.