FIREFIGHTERS are having to take on second jobs or consider moving away from Oxfordshire after almost a decade without a proper pay rise.

The Fire Brigades Union has placed all employers - including Oxfordshire County Council - 'on notice' and may call for a strike after the latest salary talks stalled last week.

The union says the role of a firefighter has expanded ten-fold in recent years with staff now being asked to deal with terror attacks and attend medical emergencies.

But these extra responsibilities have been coupled with cuts to the number of officers and a lack of funding, making the job increasingly difficult.

Oxford Mail:

Steve Wright, the brigade official for Oxfordshire, said the fire and rescue service in the county was not far off 'breaking point.'

He said: "We live in one of the most expensive areas of the country and we have firefighters struggling to pay their mortgages or having to take on second jobs to pay the bills.

"In effect we have had pay cuts because the cost of everything has increased while our wages have not.

"We are expected to do more work for less pay - there's been a rise in the number of call-outs and the incidents we attend are more varied.

"At the same time, we have fewer people to do the job which means it is taking longer to get to fires and they are more developed when we get there, putting us more at risk.

"The people of Oxfordshire will feel the impact of all this."

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The pay dispute comes after a series of dangerous blazes struck parts of Oxford.

Last Tuesday residents were forced to flee their homes after flames took hold in a block of flats in Blackbird Leys.

Two weeks ago three people had to be rescued from a top-floor flat in Littlemore after they were caught up in a fire caused by an abandoned cigarette.

Oxfordshire has around 350 firefighters and crews were stretched to the limit last year by an unprecedented heatwave, which contributed to dozens of field and farm fires breaking out across the rural parts of the county.

Mr Wright, who has been a firefighter for 19 years and is stationed in Didcot, was on the scene on June 7 as a house roof was destroyed in Little Wittenham, near Abingdon, after a fire spread from a nearby wood pile.

Crews were commended for their quick actions to put out the fire, which saved the rest of the building from burning down.

He said: "We put ourselves at risk and people are quick to praise us for the work we do.

"Then, less than a week later, we are told we do not deserve a pay rise.

"When I signed up I was expecting to do a 32-year career. That's just been extended by ten years.

"We've got to look at what we can do about this, our resources are being stretched so thinly.

"It's time for our members to stand up to those people making us do extra work for nothing.

"We've got to say we are not willing to do anymore work without pay being looked at."

Discussions between the union and employers at a meeting of the National Joint Council (NJC) on Wednesday focused on the broadening role of a firefighter and what they should be paid.

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Salaries for firefighters start at £22,500 and pay rises have been limited to one per cent in recent years, with a two per cent rise last year, and the union argues that this is effectively a pay cut, given the rise in the cost of living.

The GMB union has found that rents in Oxford increased by more than 30 per cent between 2011 and 2018.

In March, FBU members rejected a proposed two per cent pay rise because of fears that it was tied to a 'non-exhaustive' list of additional work and the union expected employers to come back with a revised offer.

This failed to materialise and now firefighters are facing being given no pay rise at all in July - the only group of public sector workers in this position.

More meetings are expected over the coming months but the union is now openly discussing taking industrial action.

Paul Smith, spokesman for Oxford City Council, said: "Firefighters' pay is negotiated nationally and we are aware that the first pay proposal was not accepted.

"It is not unusual for settlements to go beyond the July date and locally, once agreement is reached, firefighters receive back pay to the July pay date.

"Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue is eager to see the outcomes of planned national discussions this month."

The Local Government Association, which oversees the National Joint Council, was contacted for comment.