A Solidarity reader's recollection of the first national Fire Brigade strike.
Where were you in the winter of 1977-78? I was in Winchester on stand-by for the Isle of Wight in the fire strike. A young squaddie of nineteen, I'd just finished my driver-training near Hull, to ready me for driving the mighty Green Goddess. My Bedford Green Goddess was of 1953 vintage. Many fire-engine enthusiasts have newer appliances in their collection.
I remember going down to Pompey and HMS Phoenix to do my firefighting course. It lasted one whole morning. We were shown round a Green Goddess and the Navy Instructor would open hatch after hatch to show us a piece of equipment, only to add: "You won't have one of these on your Army engines."
Besides a Coventry climax pump used for pumping water out of rivers and lakes, the only specialised equipment we had were a few axes. The engine still sported a bell instead of a siren.
The most dangerous thing about the Green Goddess was that its water-tank had no baffle-plates. Their absence made the vehicle unstable when cornering or braking unless the tank was full or empty. Two Royal Irish Fusiliers were killed when their engine overturned because of such problems.
Nearly twenty-five years on, the Green Goddess has been uprated. That new red stripe around the vehicle should sort out all the old problems Since the last firefighters' strike specialist equipment and the training to use it has developed significantly. It is very unlikely that the "new" red-striped Green Goddesses will have hydraulic cutting machines, for example, to enable people to be cut free from crashed vehicles, or the personnel to operate such equipment.
If the strike happens who will crew the red-striped wonder-vehicles? Even if we don't go to war with Iraq, the British Armed Forces are fully stretched with commitments in Ireland, the Balkans, Afghanistan and in the no-fly zones above Iraq. In 1998 new regulations were brought in to call out reservists and the Territorial Army. Many members of the TA have been or remain out in the Balkans.
We must support FBU members. The recent stance of the FBU on disaffiliation gave the trade-union movement a much-needed kick up the arse. I wish the firefighters a swift victory.
Martin Paine, Norwich