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Striking firefighters banned from work protest at Surrey County Hall in Kingston
Firefighters turned away from work this morning have descended on Surrey County Hall in protest.
Surrey firefighters, who decided to strike for four hours today, are banned from working the rest of their nine-hour shift and will not get paid.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has organised the national walkout over changes to pensions, has said Surrey is the only fire authority to ban firefighters from working before and after the four-hour strike.
FBU Surrey urged members to head to county hall in Kingston for a protest, which started at 1.30pm this afternoon, during the strike which lasts until 4pm.
FBU president Alan McLean came down to speak with firefighters who gathered at the county hall.
Epsom fire station was closed today and its two fire engines were taken out of action at 9am. In Leatherhead fire engines are also not available and firefighters are on strike.
Worried resident Robin Milburn outside the closed fire station in Epsom
Richard Jones, brigade secretary at FBU Surrey, said firefighters volunteered to work as usual before the strike today but they were turned away.
He said: "It’s pointless them being at the fire station, it’s better for them to be here protesting against the fire authority."
Mr Jones believed a vast majority of firefighters had gone on strike.
Surrey County Council has said firefighters can use ‘recreational spaces’ at fire stations but they must not respond to emergency calls to "avoid logistical chaos".
The closed fire station in Epsom
Its statement said: "To minimise disruption to non-striking firefighters, we are working from six contingency sites elsewhere rather than the normal fire stations."
Twelve fire engines are in use today compared to about 22 normally and there are 86 staff on shift compared to a minimum of 104 under non-strike conditions.
But the 86 staff on shift includes crews who have completed the full 17-week firefighters’ training course, which is provided by private rescue company Specialist Group International (SGI).
Councillor Kay Hammond, cabinet associate for fire and police services, said the council contracted SGI nine months ago to enhance the day-to-day service and provide cover when it is needed including during strikes.
Coun Hammond said: "Our job is to keep the people of Surrey safe, and that means all-day cover that residents can count on.
"No organisation can plan its day based on part of the workforce suddenly leaving partway through."
The empty office at the fire station in Epsom
But in response to the work ban, Mr Jones said: "It’s absolutely disgraceful. Surrey is the only fire authority in the country taking this decision.
"They are showing an incredibly aggressive stance against their own firefighters and I question the motives behind it.
"They have contracted a private company and I think they want to show what Surrey can do with them."
He said he suspected that the work ban was a way to "promote privatisation" of the fire and rescue service in Surrey.
Adam Love, the FBU representative at Epsom fire station, said there was no major incident cover, which is normally arranged so that firefighters respond to major incidents even when on strike.
He said: "It's not just affecting firefighters who are not being paid but also potentially affecting Surrey residents who pay council tax. There's no recall facilities for firefighters to come in."
He added that firefighters on strike want to come back in to work during a major incident because they are motivated by helping people.
Mr Love said: "People in the fire service are caring people and the way they are being treated makes you wonder if that will continue."
The strike has been sparked by a dispute between the FBU and the Government over reforms to firefighters’ pensions, with 80 per cent of the union’s firefighters voting in favour of action in a ballot last month.
The FBU says the changes will mean their members will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less when they retire.
Epsom resident Robin Milburn, who walked past the closed fire station today, said: "I think it's terrible what they are doing to the fire brigade.
"They should have more firemen on duty. It's risking people's lives."
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