A YouTube video depicting older firefighters accidentally blowing a dog into a raging fire, which has spread globally via social media, was part of an elaborate hoax intended to oppose dangerous pension reforms for firefighters. The reforms, which enter law April 4th, will force firefighters to work an extra 5 years, until they are 60, cutting their pensions if they are unfit to do so.
A subsequent press release deploring the video, supposedly from the UK Government, was part of the hoax. The release proudly cited the "Williams Report," which "made clear that fully one third of firefighters between the ages of 55 and 60 are fit to perform firefighting functions as competently as those much younger" (italics added).
The Williams Report was in fact commissioned in 2012 to show the public that firefighters could work until 60, but ended up instead showing that two thirds could not. It was shelved and buried deep in a government website.
"The UK government has deliberately misled the public in order to push through this reform, which like most so-called 'austerity' reforms will have grave real-world consequences, and not just for the firefighters," said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, one of those who put together the hoax. "It's about saving money for the wealthy, without regard for the public good."
In December last year, Penny Mordaunt told the House of Commons there would be no reduction to pensions for firefighters who could not serve beyond 55 due to ill-health or unfitness and where no desk job was available. This promise persuaded many MPs to vote for the changes. Since then, Mordaunt admitted that her promises had been a lie, and that fire authorities can refuse to give a full pension to those that fail fitness tests.
Tim Hoy, a retired firefighter who appeared in the video, said: "I am now 55 and served 28 years in the London Fire Brigade. Being in charge of a crew of firefighters who have a much higher risk of heart attack, stroke or collapse due to ageing would leave me with a compromised safety system, putting at risk the lives of the other team members as well as the public whose lives we are expected to save."
Bill Carruthers, a 59 year old retired firefighter who also took part in the video said: "Firefighting isn't an ordinary job, you don't just put a hose down because you're a bit knackered or fancy a fag. You don't have a minute, when you're dragging out an eighteen stone casualty from a burning building. You do whatever it takes, even if it means working beyond the point of exhaustion! It's a young person's game and we all know that. It took us many, many years of struggle to achieve our conditions and they should not be given up so easily."
Firefighters earning just £27,000 a year, of which £4,000 a year is paid into their pensions, will now be forced to work an additional 5 years and will have their pensions cut if their health prevents them from carrying out firefighting duties after the age of 55.
But as the fake DCLG denial release noted, "in 1925, the national retirement age for firefighters was established at 60. This was reduced to 55 in 1973, and to 50 in 1992. Raising the age to 60 simply returns this milestone to its 1925 level."
"This reform takes us back to the 1920s, and punishes firefighters simply for ageing, at a time in their careers when they should feel secure that their service to their community has earned them the support they deserve," said an anonymous source.
Selected Tweets and Facebook posts:
— Zena Barrie (@ZenaBarrie) March 26, 2015
— Tiernan Douieb (@TiernanDouieb) March 26, 2015
— Sonia Poulton (@SoniaPoulton) March 26, 2015