The union’s anti-nuclear stance is of long standing: delegates demonstrated against nuclear war as early as 1954 and later supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), set up in 1958.
The Cold War was at its height during the 1950s, when Britain tested its first atomic bomb off the coast of Australia in 1952. A letter to The Firefighter from Ramsgate branch secretary John Hewitt in 1954 demonstrates the strength of feeling against nuclear weapons within the union. Responding to the US testing a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, he writes:
“Why not a nationwide campaign of every organisation possible that has within it people of sincerity and purpose who realise the dreadful danger that confronts us? Let them have one objective: our children’s survival, with a two-point charter: a) the immediate halt of all further atom or hydrogen explosions; b) the eventual banning of the bomb and the transfer of nuclear energy from destruction to creative purposes.”
In later decades, the union’s stance against nuclear weapons was further strengthened by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, in which firefighters responding to the incident in Ukraine were killed. The FBU’s health and safety national officer, Dave Matthews, wrote to the chief inspector of fire services, Sir Peter Darby, to request an “urgent meeting” of all relevant parties. He said:
“The FBU has consistently argued that there is no protection for firefighters that could afford adequate safety to individuals if there were releases of gamma radiation.”
Moving the anti-nuclear resolution at the TUC Congress in Brighton in 1986, FBU general secretary Ken Cameron said:
“Six brave firefighters died from radiation at Chernobyl and many other firemen are still very ill. I wish to pay tribute to those valiant firefighters and to the dozens of other firefighters still in hospitals who, sadly, have very short life expectancies. We in the FBU want to make sure that British firefighters and the British public never have to face such appalling risks.”