A war of words is raging between the Government and union leaders as firefighters across England and Wales prepared to strike in a row over pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will walk out for four hours from noon, the first national stoppage for a decade.
The union is campaigning against changes it says will mean firefighters will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less in retirement. The move will also see firefighters having to work on frontline duties until they are 60, the union argued.
But the Government maintained that the changes were fair and would still give firemen and women one of the most generous pensions in the public sector. Fire minister Brandon Lewis said the dispute was over pensions, not complaints that firefighters will have to work on the front line until they are 60.
He said: "The Government has listened to union concerns - firefighters will still get one of the most generous pension schemes in the public sector. A firefighter who earns £29,000, and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private sector pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
"The firefighter pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces. We have been clear with the Fire Brigades Union our pension reforms are not introducing a national fitness standard. Firefighter fitness remains a local fire and rescue authority matter - Government is helping local employers and the union to work together on this issue."
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "This initial strike is a warning shot to Government. Firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions. Governments in Westminster and Cardiff have simply refused to see sense on these issues.
"It is ludicrous to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late 50s. The lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered. None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "There are many reasons why the Government shouldn't be pressing ahead with these unfair and ill-thought-out changes, with concerns about the likely impact on safety surely top of the list. Being able to save people from burning buildings or rescue them from the scene of a multiple vehicle pile-up requires not just bravery, but a good deal of physical strength too.
"There won't be many members of the public who would feel confident about being rescued from a serious fire if the only route out of the inferno was down a ladder on the back of a firefighter who was about to turn 60. Yet that is exactly what the FBU fears could happen if the Government gets its way. Ministers might say that they'd move older staff off frontline duties but the reality is likely to be very different."