Hemel Hempstead MP tells firefighters: ‘Your strike will put lives at risk’

Hemel Hempstead firefighters taking part in a national strike in a row about pensions, and (below) Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning
Hemel Hempstead firefighters taking part in a national strike in a row about pensions, and (below) Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning says the firefighters who will be taking part in their longest strike yet tomorrow are ‘putting people’s lives at risk’.

The 24 hours of action will begin at 9am – and a second walk-out will last from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, June 21.

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning

They will be the 13th and 14th strikes by the Fire Brigades Union in protest to pension changes by the government that could see firefighters working until 60. They currently retire at 55.

Mr Penning, who was himself a firefighter for six years, said: “That’s not the way for a union to negotiate its position.

“You are putting people’s lives at risk and that’s something no firefighter would want to do.

“It’s not the government that’s deciding to strike - it’s them deciding to strike. No one’s forcing them to strike. They should be round the table, negotiating their side of the argument.

“These things have to be resolved by negotiations and will not be resolved by going out on strike.”

The union says firefighters who are forced to retire before 60, because they are not fit enough, could lose half their pension.

But Mr Penning said that for firefighters who are forced out by service-related injuries – as he was – the position will be completely different.

He said the changes proposed by the government are necessary and there is no reason uninjured firefighters should not be fit enough to work until 60.

He reacted angrily to a comment posted that said he ‘belongs’ to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who he serves under as disabilities minister.

The comment had said: “Where is the two faced hypocrite Penning?

“He was on the picket line with the firemen when Labour were in power. Now his lot are in, he is totally against them.”

But Mr Penning said that decision was made by Herts County Council, which then had a Tory majority - so his support was nothing to do with party politics.

He said: “I was supportive of the position not to close Bovingdon Fire Station, so I went to meet them on the picket line, but I never supported the strike.”

Meanwhile, Herts County Council’s cabinet member for community safety Richard Thake said the authority is ‘extremely disappointed’ about the latest strikes.

He said: “It’s hard to see how this is going to help resolve their dispute with the government.

“This repeated strike action in a key public service is ill-conceived and the safety of the people of Hertfordshire should not be used as a bargaining tool.”

Director of community protection and chief fire officer Roy Wilsher said contingency arrangements have stood up well during pervious strikes.

But he said: “With fewer resources our ability to respond to incidents is reduced. Therefore I urge the public to play their part again and take extra care during the strike action.

“We will be responding as quickly as possible to serious incidents. In the event of a fire you should still get out, stay out, and call 999 – you will get an emergency response.

“We continue to hope that the government and FBU can resolve their dispute and that further walkouts can be avoided.”

Here is some safety advice to help you and your family stay safe during the strike:

In your home:

– Check your smoke alarm is working. Do the same for any elderly or vulnerable neighbours or family

– Plan your escape route and make sure everyone knows how to get out

– Avoid having bonfires

– Avoid lighting candles

– Don’t leave cigarettes burning

– Unplug any electrical items you’re not using

– Switch off portable heaters when you leave the room

– Don’t leave hot pans unattended, especially chip pans

Out and about:

– When driving, watch your speed and keep your distance especially in bad weather

– If you’re riding a bike or motorcycle, check you’ve got all the right safety gear and that you’re clearly visible to other road users

– Pedestrians should cross the road at the safest place possible, such as zebra, pelican, puffin and patrolled crossings

– Look out for hazards and other road users

– Check your vehicle and make sure your brakes, tyres, lights, wipers and washers are all working and in good condition.

At work and school:

– Turn off all lights and equipment that do not need to be left on

– Check fire extinguishers are correctly sited and are serviced

– Make sure everyone knows how to evacuate quickly and safely

{|More fire prevention and road safety advice is available here}

If you want to speak to someone about fire prevention please call 0300 123 4046.