FIRE BRIGADES Union (FBU) members in Tower Hamlets, east London, are balloting for industrial action over a scheme designed to cover up for cuts in the ambulance service by getting firefighters effectively to do two jobs. Karl Haider, a local FBU union official, told Socialist Worker what's at stake:
"First everyone needs to be clear that we are not objecting to carrying defibrillator machines on appliances for use in certain heart attack cases. They are stored in places like supermarkets and could save lives. What we are against is a scheme which is going to see firefighters called out to deal with an emergency that it requires a trained paramedic to do. We get just four days basic first aid training. The brigade is offering another two days for using defibrillators.
That's way short of being a paramedic. And our ambulance service colleagues say the machines are only useful in certain heart attack cases. You need a lot of training to know what you are doing. The plan is a cover for cuts in the ambulance service-which is struggling to meet response times. Ambulance colleagues say it could mean us responding to a heart attack while they are sent to deal with a cut finger.
The brigade refuse even to acknowledge we have a dispute about this. So we have no alternative but to ballot to boycott the two-day defibrillator courses. They want to push it through Tower Hamlets and then roll it out across London."