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All-out strike looms by fire and 999 crews

DUBLIN could be left without fire and ambulance services within a month after firefighters voted for strike action.

Union bosses have been instructed to serve strike notice after members demanded action in a dispute over pay and conditions.

And Siptu's national full-time fire officers' committee has agreed that members around the country will withdraw their services in support of the strike.

The action would involve a complete stoppage of fire and ambulance services and would be likely to cause the closure of Dublin airport and regional airports.

If it goes ahead, it will be the first all-out strike by the fire service in more than 20 years.

The action centres on the growing number of unfilled vacancies in the service, leading to unsafe conditions, and pay cuts that Siptu is describing as "the straw that broke the camel's back".

John Kidd, National Secretary of the committee, said fire fighters and ambulance personnel were working in unsafe conditions because of staff cutbacks.

There are nearly 1,000 firefighters in the Dublin area and another 350 outside the capital.

"Members want a national fire brigade strike in conjunction with a national ambulance strike with complete withdrawal of cover," Mr Kidd said.

"This is not a decision we take lightly and we regret having to do it -- we are members of the community like everybody else. We don't have any choice, the fire service has become a basket case because of cutbacks. In addition to the pay cuts, 108 members retired last year, around 30 so far this year, and there have only been no new recruits over the last two years. We cannot continue to provide a service like this."

Mr Kidd said the capital had only 19 ambulances to serve a population of 1.3 million, with one firefighter for every 1,300 members of the public. This compared with one to 800 in cities in Britain.

Another source of discontent is the pensions levy for public servants to help cover the cost of their free pensions.

Mr Kidd said his members were being charged the full levy even though they had already paid 6.5pc of their salary into their pension scheme, meaning they are losing 15pc of their salary to pension contributions and levies.