UK firefighters criticised over terror attack pay plan

Dealing with terrorist attacks is already part of the job, inspector of police and fire services says

London Fire Brigade officers tackle a fire in North London. Alamy
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British firefighters should not get extra pay for tackling fires and rescuing victims during multi-location terrorist attacks like those seen in Mumbai, Nairobi and Paris, a regulator has said.

Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of police and fire services, said discussions over a 2 per cent top-up of salaries for firefighters in London and Manchester were unjustified and the work was already considered part of their jobs.

In a stinging letter to management and unions, Mr Winsor said that paramedics did not get extra pay for working in similar circumstances. Police also did not get extra despite their job involving shooting dead terrorist attackers if they pose a continued threat to life.

He said dealing with the impact of a terrorist attack was “squarely within the established role of a firefighter” and warned that Home Secretary Priti Patel might step in to block the move if a deal was agreed.

“This is not new work,” said Mr Winsor. “It is work in demanding and dangerous circumstances: dealing with fires and evacuating casualties, protecting endangered lives.”

Although the rules on firefighter pay negotiations were written before deadly attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Nairobi in 2013 and Paris two years later, Mr Winsor said the UK was used to major terrorist attacks.

Firefighters responded angrily to the intervention by Mr Winsor and said that talks had been going on for years. Matt Wrack, general secretary of Fire Brigades Union, said it was “unhelpful” for Mr Winsor to interfere in “positive discussions” with management.

The proposed pay rise is in addition to the 1.5 per cent increase from June that pushed their salaries up to between £24,000 to £62,000 a year depending on their roles.

“It is a discussion between the union and our members’ employers, in this case around a new area of work responsibility. Such discussions are an entirely normal part of industrial relations,” said Mr Wrack.

A London fire brigade spokesman said the talks were about agreeing a new strategy to “help define firefighters’ roles during terrorist incidents” and about extra training.

The Manchester fire service has faced strong criticism over its response to the terror attacks at the city’s Arena where suicide bomber Salman Abedi killed 22 people and injured hundreds more after triggering a rucksack bomb.

A senior official described the service’s response in May 2017 as a “catastrophe” after a series of failures meant it took two hours for crews to reach the Arena.

Mr Winsor, who trained as a lawyer, has a reputation for ruffling feathers within the UK’s public services after a stint as rail regulator and then being given the responsibility of reforming the police pay and pension system.

He was appointed the chief inspector of police forces in England and Wales in 2012 – to the horror of rank-and-file police officers because of his pension review – and added scrutiny of fire services to his remit five years later.

He is reported to be in the running to become the broadcast and telecoms regulator, a politically sensitive role that will take the lead in cracking down on the behaviour of tech giants.

Updated: September 29, 2021, 12:01 PM

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