On Monday 15th December myself, along with firefighters from Norfolk and across the country descended on Parliament for the last time after 5 weeks of doing so to Lobby our MPs.
The reason was to try to get the Government to kick out the pension they have proposed for firefighters which is unfit for purpose as it wants firefighters to carry out their role until they are 60. I can already hear those saying how they wish they could retire at 60 but can’t, they must realise our job is different from any other job. At this point I feel I have to respond to Mr Wheatley’s letter “Why not ease into desk jobs”.
Mr Wheatley seems to write his letter on the back of “I wonder how often” and “seem to me to”. These are views unsubstantiated by evidence. In response the answer is simple,
there are virtually no desk based or other jobs for firefighters to do. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) asked every Brigade in the country how many of these types of jobs they had for firefighters and the answer was 16 for the entire country and there are none in Norfolk.
Does Mr Wheatley really think that Firefighters would strike unless every option had been looked at.
We rush in when everyone else is going the other way, with Breathing Apparatus on our backs, into rooms that are 1500 degrees C to put out fires and rescue people. We cut people out of cars so the paramedics can save their lives, we rescue people from floods, train crashes, terrorist incidents, Hazmat incidents and a myriad of other lifesaving jobs.
We cannot take it easy because we are getting older or only use the equipment that is not too heavy, we can’t sit down for 5 minutes to get or breathe back because every second counts.
We have to do what needs to be done in a moment’s notice. Yes, we don’t do it day in, day out but we are expected to do it if it happens. It is a job where we can, and do, die whilst trying to save the public that we serve. All this was explained time and time again to the MP’s and we used the very report which they commissioned Dr Williams to carry out.
In it Dr Williams states that firefighters will not be able to achieve the fitness standards that Fire Services use across the country between the ages of 55 to 60 because with age fitness diminishes, it’s a natural process. This being the case then under the proposed changes firefighters would be dismissed under capability (a pretty way of saying sacked) with no pension until the national pension age is reached, is this any way to treat those that spend their lives serving the public? This was pointed out to MP’s and at first they couldn’t see it but once we had sat down with them and explained they understood our concerns so much so that a debate was asked for in Parliament, even by my own MP Henry Bellingham. This was the reason for us travelling down on the 15th December, to watch the democratic process at work.
Back to the 15th December, we got seats in the public gallery and waited for two hours until the debate started. This was all one way traffic and the Fire Minister decided to ignore the questions raised and plodded on stating over and over again that firefighters wouldn’t be dismissed without a pension. It was pointed out by Labour, Conservative and LibDem MPs saying that it wasn’t a cast iron guarantee and in their proposed regulation councils only had to consider this as an option even comments such as “MPs would not except a pension like this.
Why should firefighters?” by Ian Lavery MP (Wansbeck). The point of dismissal however isn’t a problem for Scottish and Welsh firefighters with their devolved Governments as they have the guarantee written into law and the pension age for the firefighters in Ireland was put at 55 as they took heed of the Williams report.
I need to point out that less than 50 MPs attended this debate but when the vote was called they appeared from nowhere with over 500 casting a vote. We waited for the tellers to return, ever hopeful as the debate showed that the proposal was flawed and the proposed pension scheme should be rejected with a “Yes “ vote. The result was returned with the “No’s” having it. It seemed that the Tory’s and LibDems were whipped and told which way to vote. So much for democracy, having the debate, listening to the arguments and taking into consideration the views of those that they represent. It was a farce and the ConDem Government showed their true colours by condemning us to a pension that isn’t fit for purpose, one that the majority of firefighters will now not get and therefore leave the pension scheme because as I have been told “What’s the point of paying 14% of our wages into a scheme that we will never get”.
The ConDem’s are not concerned about the people they represent or the safety of the public that they are supposed to serve. We came away feeling stunned, angry and betrayed by those we had met with especially after they had told us they supported us and understood our concerns, firefighters across the country watched the debate on TV and were left feeling the same. These are the same firefighters that the Government praises time and time again when we do what needs to be done, yet they are happy to turn their backs on us when we needed them most.
Remember this when the elections come around this year as I can assure you that the firefighters that serve you and keep you safe won’t forget the betrayal that has happened.