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MILITARY PREVENTED ACCESS TO MODERN FIRE EQUIPMENT

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The government is resisting demands to let the military use modern firefighting equipment during next week's planne...
The government is resisting demands to let the military use modern firefighting equipment during next week's planned strike on the grounds that the military should not intervene in industrial disputes, reported The Sunday Telegraph (pp 1-2, p8).

The Fire Brigades Union's decisionto take industrial action means that service personnel will fight fires. However, local government minister Nick Raynsford said at the weekend that they would not be permitted to use the fire authorities' 3,000 engines, despite their superiority to the military's antiquated Green Goddesses. Most of the Green Goddesses are between 30 and 50 years old. They do not have cutting equipment or radios, and need police escorts.

Colin Ive, president of the Retained Firefighters Union, which represents part-time firefighters and has publicly denounced the planned strikes, said a serviceman could become fully conversant with a vehicle in 10 days.

'There is no reason why a soldier could not be trained to use a fire engine', he said. 'Obviously they would still lack experience but they would be familiar with most aspects of the vehicle. Our members would have no problem with soldiers being given access to proper fire engines. All we care about is ensuring that the public has proper protection'.

A spokeswoman for deputy prime minister John Prescott said that it was not possible to train soldiers to use fire engines, which would remain in their stations so that they could be used between strikes. 'We are not saying we did not consider the use of fire engines but contingency planning decided that Green Goddesses were the most viable option', she added.

The newspaper says hospitals are being advised to recruit extra doctors and nurses to cope with an expected rise in the number of casualties during the fire service strike. A confidential Whitehall memo sent to NHS administrators instructs them to review their emergency cover during the 36-day industrial action. The guidance, claims the newspaper, undermines official reassurances that troops will cope during the strikes, which begin in eight days' time.

National strike cover is to be directed from the Whitehall emergency control centre known as Cobra. Deputy prime minister John Prescott will oversee the operation together with military chiefs of staff and department of transport ministers. The alternative service will include 12,500 military personnel with back-up from 6,000 civilians. Nevertheless, the force is less than half the civilian service, which is 52,000-strong and has 3,000 modern engines.

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