WIGAN residents have been urged to take extra care today as fire crews stage a 24-hour strike over pension changes.
The walkout starts at 9am and will be the most protracted in a long-running dispute between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the government.
Stand-in crews will be in operation across the borough but Wigan union representative Mike Gregory advised Wiganers to be cautious.
He said: “Residents should check their smoke alarms are working and make sure they have a fire escape plan should the worst happen.
“And it’s not just at home that people need to be extra vigilant – please take extra care on the roads.
“The stand-in crews have gone through some training but have not been as adequately trained as regular officers.”
The FBU has been in talks with ministers in recent months about the controversial changes to pension schemes and a later retirement age but progress has not been made.
Mr Gregory said: “The last thing we want to be doing is going on strike, we all signed up for this job to help the public and it’s very frustrating.
“But we have got to stick to our guns and make the government listen to our concerns, the dispute is going on and on.”
The government has maintained that fire service pensions will remain some of the most generous in the public sector and that industrial action “serves to damage firefighters’ standing with the public.”
Fire minister Brandon Lewis said last week that he was willing to work with the union to “make real progress on the fitness and capability issues.”
He added: “The union has chosen to launch industrial action, undermining a period of open consultation on the draft pension regulations, which will now be laid once we have reviewed the consultation responses.”
Union members took strike action last month, spread over three days of a bank holiday weekend.
The auxiliary crews were called into action on Saturday, May 3, at Ainscough’s Yard on Warrington Road.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “The minister has decided to bury his head in the sand, but he must accept that firefighters simply will not give up fighting for their futures — and our fire and rescue service.
“Concerns over these unworkable proposals remain as valid and grave as ever, and the government has ignored all the evidence including it’s own reports.
“It is as ever a difficult decision for us to take, but the only way for us to resolve this unnecessary and costly dispute is for the government to start listening to reason.”
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has reassured residents that crews will be responding to emergencies during the strike hours although there will be limited fire engines available.