The total number of incidents has fallen below one million and is likely to drop for the third year in succession. Yet, claimed the newspaper, 35,000 full-time firefighters are resisting change in what may be the last stand of trade union restrictive practices in Britain.
The Sunday Times said the firemen had taken over from postmen and railwaymen as the nation's most militant workforce: there were 36 strikes in Essex alone last year. Now meeting are being held in
stations across the country to sanction the first national strike for 20 years if employers try to change working conditions that often include leisure facilities such as bars within stations and basketball courts in the yards outside.
The government wants to refocus the service away from firefighting and towards fire prevention. A home office minister is demanding more female firefighters: currently fewer than 1% are women.
The chief inspector of fire services, Graham Meldrum, is also planning a review of equal opportunities after discovering that the number of ethnic minority fireman has declined. There are just 312 black
firemen and 64 Asians, 1% of the total.
Teresa Gorman, Conservative MP for Billericay, has angered firemen by calling them dinosaurs and, using the model of Arizona, suggesting that most fire incidents could be dealt with by two firefighters in
a fast car. She also drew attention to the culture of the 'golden backache' with many firefighters leaving on medical grounds in their mid-forties after 26 years' service and immediately pick up a
pension of two-thirds their salary. Of the fire services'£1.5bn budget this year,£275m will go in pensions to former firemen.
Graham Noakes, chairman of the Essex FBU, said of Mrs Gorman: 'She is barking. You cannot compare Arizona with Essex. If she thinks we can put out fires with two men and a car, we are all going to put in for a Porsche'.