Given that it was partly the police strike that inspired firefighters to set up their own union, it is not surprising that one of the first acts of the new Firemen’s Trade Union was to seek pay, pensions and working hours parity with police.
The government established a committee, headed by Liberal MP Sir William Middlebrook, which took evidence from firefighters and the FTU among others. Some progress was already being made in pay negotiations across the country, not just in London: Birkenhead, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leicester and Manchester had adopted police pay scales for most ranks by 1920.
In Birmingham, chief fire officer Alfred Robert Tozer Jnr said rank and file firefighters received the same pay grade as constables, station officers as sergeants, and district officers as inspectors. The Middlebrook committee agreed that firefighters “should be treated more or less equal with the police and more generously than their municipal employees”. The committee concluded that because firefighters were exposed to “all kinds of weather” and hazards in the workplace their work was of “a more arduous nature” than most municipal workers’.
It was also the committee’s belief that firefighters should share pension parity with police. Previously there had been disparity over firefighters’ pension rights depending on what brigade they worked for. In some brigades, including Glasgow and Birkenhead, where pensions were at the employer’s discretion, firefighters complained that they were forced to “hang on till they are ready for tumbling into the grave” before being allowed to retire.
Convinced by the evidence, the Middlebrook committee recommended a uniform pensions scheme that would give firefighters the right to retire after 25 years’ service. The maximum retiring age for all ranks up to station officer was recommended to be set at 55, with 65 for senior ranks.
Middlebrook was less accommodating on hours, maintaining the 24-hour continuous duty system firefighters were hoping to change. The committee did, however, recommend more generous annual leave.