This London Fire Brigade photo shows gear and equipment currently in use by its firefighters.

Six-Year London Fire Service Dispute Settled

Unionized London firefighters agreed after mediation to accepted 10.5-hour day shifts starting at 9:30 a.m. and 13.5-hour night shifts starting at 8 p.m. The Fire Brigades Union called two one-day strikes last fall after years of talks could not resolve the issue.

Shift lengths and start times are changing for the London Fire Brigade, which is the largest firefighting department in the United Kingdom, but it hasn't been quick or easy. Six years of talks between The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which runs the department, and the Fire Brigades Union, which represents more than 85 percent of UK uniformed fire personnel, had failed to reach an agreement, and two one-day strikes by FBU last fall increased the rancor.

After FBU members voted 2,670 to 510 in favor of the changes on Dec. 22, the union agreed to recommend to the authority on Jan. 14 that the changes be adopted. "I'm delighted common sense has prevailed after two completely unnecessary strikes," said Brian Coleman, leader of the authority. "Today's announcement paves the way to end a dispute we've been fighting for six years, if accepted by the FBU's regional committee. It demonstrates clear acceptance from the union to changes that will make Londoners safer."

"We're pleased, of course, that a sensible compromise has been achieved. This was always our objective," said Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for London. "I wish it could have been achieved without the foolishly dramatic threat to sack all London firefighters, which led to two one-day strikes."

The department's firefighters will switch to 10.5-hour day shifts that start at 9:30 a.m. and 13.5-hour night shifts starting at 8 p.m. They've been on 15-hour night shifts and nine-hour day shifts. Firefighters will continue working two day shifts followed by two night shifts and then have four days off.

The London Fire Brigade claims to be the world's third-largest firefighting organization, with 7,000 staffers (including 5,800 firefighters and officers) protecting 1,587 square kilometers of Greater London.

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