Around 200 FBU activists took to Westminster today (29 Nov) to campaign for greater professional standards in the fire and rescue service to better protect firefighters.
The lobby of Parliament came after the union published a 90-page report about Manchester firefighter Stephen Hunt who was killed in 2013 while responding to fire at a hair products store. His death was since found to be completely avoidable. Activist firefighters spent the afternoon speaking to and lobbying their MPs from across the political spectrum, enabling them to raise their concerns and demand action directly from their democratic representatives.
"If we don’t get the message across today, we will be back here in a year or so when another one of our brothers or sisters dies."
At a meeting ahead of the lobby, shadow chancellor John McDonnell urged members to ‘eyeball’ their MPs, particularly Conservative and Liberal Democrats, to make them understand the impact of fire and rescue service cuts on firefighter safety. He said: “We have been here time and time again, and those MPs still went ahead and voted for cuts to the fire and rescue service. Many firefighters, like Stephen Hunt, would be alive now if these MPs had said yes and listened to us at previous lobbies. If we don’t get the message across today, we will be back here in a year or so when another one of our brothers or sisters dies. So, today, tell them that they will be held responsible for deaths unless they listen”.
Also on the platform was shadow trade unions minister Ian Lavery who branded the government ‘criminal’ for axing 10,000 firefighter jobs, declaring health and safety the most important issue in the fire service today. Shadow environmental minister Rachael Maskell, who called for firefighters to be given a statutory duty to respond to flooding earlier this year, echoed concerns that the government’s handling of the fire and rescue service meant it was ‘going backward, not forwards.’
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, told the meeting that austerity was ‘delivering nothing’ and that the fire and rescue service was now taking retrograde steps back to the way things were more than 70 years ago.
He said: “Police and Crime Commissioners taking over governance of the fire and rescue service will take us back to the police fire brigades of the 1930s and 40s…….We had one of the finest fire services in the world, and we used to know what we meant by a ‘fire engine’ and we knew how many people could sit in one. Now CFO’s dream up their own ideas of what a fire engine is and how many could sit in it.”
Wrack congratulated North Yorkshire for ‘standing up to the use of TRVs’ which was met with applause from the lobbying firefighters.