Liverpudlians face living with diminished fire protection for the next eight days as Merseyside firefighters began strike action in a dispute over job cuts today.
Over 1,000 staff walked out from their shifts this morning, leaving the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority with just 70 per cent of its full complement of firefighters and less than half the usual number of fire engines available.
The effect of the industrial action has been exacerbated by the lack of cover usually provided by the army, which has been unable to contribute to ensuring the continued safety to local residents because they are overstretched by overseas deployments
Instead Merseyside chief fire officer Tony McGuirk has drafted in office staff who have previously worked as firefighters, while defending the decision to make cutbacks because they will reduce the cost of the fire service and help modernise it.
After a four-day strike beginning today at 10:00 BST the firefighters will commence a second strike of equal length on Monday after a two-hour break.
Observers believe talks are unlikely to succeed because of the extreme degree of animosity present between the two sides. Assistant chief fire officer Bill Evans has said that the FBU has a "total disregard for public safety" while FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has accused Mr McGuirk of acting on a "political hostility" which should be a matter of "public concern".
A lack of funding from central government is the primary cause of the job cuts, local officials have claimed.