THE BLOG

Why I'm Fighting for Pensions

10/12/2014 08:35 GMT | Updated 08/02/2015 10:59 GMT

I joined the fire and rescue service to protect our communities. To help people and save lives. I was acutely aware that every day the frontline role I would undertake would require that I put my body on the line and routinely risk my life and my physical and mental health. This is of course not unique to the fire and rescue service. Our police, our ambulance crews and the brave men and women of the armed forces do the same every day to keep us safe.

Our frontline responsibilities do not finish at 5pm on Monday to Friday however. We are there twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year - which can place a heavy demand on home life. Christmas days at work, weekends with friends cancelled, leave us heavily restricted which can be outside school holidays. Some of the benefits I used to take for granted in previous jobs.

All I expected in return was fair treatment commensurate to the risks and sacrifices I would make to protect the public. I didn't join this job to get a lavish six figure salary or a boat in Monaco. I just want fair pay, a fair pension and fair terms and conditions so I can support my family.

However it appears that asking for a fair deal is too much to ask for from the current government. A government who intend to rip up our pension contracts and impose another significantly detrimental one which includes an unworkable pension age of 60.

Frontline firefighting is a demanding role. One moment you can be exposed to punishing temperatures of 1000ºC in a house fire, and the next plunged into ice cold water to rescue a life and finish the day cutting someone from a car with heavy rescue equipment in a time critical situation. No two days are the same and this understandably takes its toll on the body and means firefighters need to be physically fit in order to carry out their duty. We undertake regular fitness testing to ensure we are fit enough. So of course any proposal to change to our occupational pension age should be cognisant of these unique requirements, right?

As part of the governments own analysis Dr Tony Williams calculated that between the ages of 55 and the new pension age of 60, 66% of firefighters would be unable to achieve the required cardiovascular fitness level leaving only two options - lose a quarter of the pension I personally pay a huge £4000 a year into, or be sacked and be placed in a position of having no job and no pension. Does that sound like a fair deal?

Thankfully Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh governments have all assessed the weight of evidence and all issued alternative proposals for Firefighters. They are not on strike.

However Westminster stands alone in seeking to punish English firefighters and railroad through these numerous unfair, unworkable and unachievable changes.

However 260 MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and others have all "prayed" against the proposals by signing Early Day Motion 454 calling for a debate and vote on the pension regulations.

Taking industrial action is the absolute last thing any firefighter wants to ever have to do. Yet the unreasonable action by ministers over the past three years during negotiations has been shameful. It has left firefighters dismayed with no other option to safeguard their families and their communities' long term futures.

I hope you never need to call 999. However if you, your friend or your child are trapped, vulnerable in need of help and require the fire and rescue service, I cannot afford to be a step behind because of old age. Every second counts and any delay could lead to my death or the person I'm rescuing.

Firefighters are not only fighting for fairness but for the safety of the public. This is something I and other principled firefighters will never compromise on.