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Striking firefighters in Hendon and Finchley welcome support during eight hour walk out

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By Kevin Bradford

FIREFIGHTERS at picket lines today welcomed the public's support towards their strike and urged Brigade bosses to hold further talks in a bid to avert future action.

Crews across the borough stood outside their fire stations in a show of solidarity against the London Fire Brigade's (LFB) plans to change shift patterns under the threat of redundancies.

Dozens of staff turned out this morning at each station for a peaceful protest after 11th hour talks between the LFB and the union collapsed.

Steve Renny, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) representative for Finchley station, said: “We are all disappointed we didn't reach an agreement yesterday.

“We don't want to be out on strike today or on November 5, but if that is what it takes to hold on to our jobs.

“We are hoping the public will be behind us and realise this isn't about money, it is purely about our start and finish times and getting a good time for our members and their families.

“We will talk to them but without the threat of the sack. Remove that, and we would call off the strikes immediately.”

Fire brigade union bosses said yesterday the London Fire Brigade (LFB) “point blank refused” to lift the threat to sack 5,500 firefighters.

Crews from Hendon Fire Station set up a stool outside their station in The Burroughs, and were receiving beeps and waves of support from passers by.

Shaun Powell, the station's union representative, said: “The response from the public has been very good. People have been supportive of us.

“We are always disappointed we have to strike. If it was avoidable then we would do it. We are all prepared to change, but we don't want change for change sake.

“We all accept changes to shift patterns are going to happen, but that negotiation should not be done with a gun to our heads.”

Cover throughout the day was provided by private firm AssetCo, and crews were located at Tottenham and Wembley to respond to 999 calls in the north London area.

But Mr Renny said if AssetCo staff had been drafted into his station, there would have been no displays of aggression.

He said: “If they had come here, we would have let them know what they're doing and politely asked them not to cross the picket line.

“We just wanted to explain that our jobs are at risk.”

A statement from the LFB confirmed the contingency plans were rolled out this morning and that all 162 contract staff providing fire and rescue service across London were available or waiting to be deployed by 11am, an hour after the strike started.

A total of 27 fully crewed appliances were operating and responding to 999 calls across the city until 6pm when the strike ends.

Navin Shah AM, Labour Leader on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, today urged the union to re-think their strike, planned for bonfire night, and called for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to replace the authority's chair, Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman.

Mr Shah said: “The confrontational, unnecessarily aggressive approach of Brian Coleman has been matched by the absence of Boris Johnson. It’s been a complete shambles. Relations with the union should never have reached this dire state.

“The best way to diffuse the current situation would be for the Mayor to install new leadership at the Fire Authority and engage with the FBU.”

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1st November 2010