Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

March 26, 2009 20:01 ET

Fire Service: Working Time Impact on Retained Firefighters is Misunderstood and Exaggerated Says Fire Brigades Union

NORTHUMBERLAND, UNITED KINGOM--(Marketwire - March 25, 2009) -

MEDIA RELEASE: 00.01 March 27

The Fire Brigades Union says the impact of proposed changes to the working time directive on retained firefighters are greatly misunderstood and being exaggerated. The FBU represents over 11,000 firefighters working retained duty.

Northumberland FBU Brigade Secretary Colin James said "It's a bit rich for chief fire officers to be complaining of retained firefighters not being able to work longer hours at the same time as they want to cut the number of wholetime firefighters. They can't have their cake and eat it. They need to stop cuts and address firefighter shortages.

"Instead, there are scare stories going around about the ending of the individual opt out from the 48-hour week. If that ever happens it will be many years away.

"The Working Time Directive is a health and safety measure to help prevent accidents and injuries as a result of workers being over-tired. There is a clear link between long working hours and increasing accidents, injuries and illnesses.

"This is not just a health and safety issue for one exhausted individual but for everyone else who works with them or relies on them. Health and safety is of great concern to the fire service because of the hostile environments we work in.

"If we thought for one minute that changing this directive and the regulations would end the retained firefighter duty system, we would oppose it. There is no way our communities could have the current levels of protection were it not for firefighters working the retained duty system.

"The fact is that one in five retained firefighters is self-employed and therefore exempt from the directive and regulations altogether. And it is critical that the directive only counts the hours once.

"An example is a retained firefighter working a 35-hour week who is called away from their primary employment to fight fires for five hours. That counts as 30 hours in primary employment and five hours fire service employment - it's still 35 hours.

"A retained firefighter's 'on call' time does not count at all towards the 48-hours. It would count for a worker 'on call' at their place of work, but a retained firefighter is not fire station-based, so 'on call' time does not count.

"The fire service does have peaks and troughs of activity. That's why the Working Time Directive averages the 48-hours out over a 26 week period, not just from week to week.

"Recent surveys show that on average retained firefighters work 47.7 hours a week in all their jobs. That remains within the 48-hour week limit.

"Even under the new proposals, no firefighter would be stopped from doing their job. The 48-hour week can be waived in situations like severe weather, major emergencies and temporary staff shortages.

"A simple way of addressing most concerns would be by running the fire service with the proper number of firefighters instead of the long-term shortages we suffer from. In Northumberland we are short of both wholetime firefighters and retained firefighters. As a consequence this leads to occasions when fire engines are 'off the run' and unavailable to respond to emergencies.

"Nationally we are between 3,000 and 5,000 retained firefighters short. Chronic in-built shortages means the workload falls on fewer shoulders.

"Longer working hours can drive firefighters away from working retained duty and make it more difficult to recruit firefighters to work retained duty. By addressing recruitment, the time pressure on other retained firefighters would be eased and more would stay working retained duty and serving their communities."

Contact Information

  • Media contact:
    Colin James
    07981 680754