MANY will no doubt have seen in the news that we are currently recruiting an Emergency Fire Crew in case of industrial action and this is provoking quite a debate.The recruitment is in response to a ballot that is currently taking place, that could see firefighters across the country take part in a national strike. It is a dispute between the unions and the Government over pensions, and not between GMFRS and our firefighters.However, having said that, it does have a serious implication for us, as it may mean we have no fire cover. So we are trying to put a contingency plan in place for the worst case scenario.People will remember the Armed Forces with Green Goddesses stepping in to help during previous industrial disputes (a decade ago now), but they are no longer available to us. So, we have to come up with another option, and indeed we have a legal obligation to do so - but of course we also want to keep the public as safe as possible in all circumstances.It is something every fire service is facing - though every fire service is different, with different sorts of firefighters and different sorts of risks (built up towns and cities or rural areas). So their plans are different. The plan we have is to ask members of the public to become part of an emergency fire crew that could step in if - and we do stress if - industrial action takes place.We would wish to make it clear that all our firefighters are genuinely hoping industrial action can be avoided - but they also recognise our need to have in place proper contingency arrangements, as they have no desire to see the public at risk.The results of the ballot will not be known until the end of August, but we can't wait for then to launch our plan, otherwise we would not have time to train our emergency crew. This is why our advert is live now (you can view the details here: manchesterfire.gov.uk/emergencyfirecrews ).It is clearly an emotive subject and everyone will have their view. BBC Radio Manchester covered the issue this morning, when Alan Beswick interviewed the Fire Brigades Union and the Chairman of the Fire Authority. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01cg6ncThe FBU interview is at 1hr 1min in and the Fire Authority Chairman is 2hrs 2 mins into the programme.One clear question from that interview was whether the contingency arrangements placed the public more at risk - as, for all we can provide basic training, this is not the same as the skills and abilities of our day to day crews?This is a very difficult question to answer as it depends on so many things - what actually happens on the day, how careful the public is in terms of managing their own safety, how long a dispute lasts etc etc. At this stage, therefore, as we say, this is a contingency arrangement because the possibility is there, and a ballot is running and we cannot wait until it concludes.We remain hopeful there will not be industrial action and even if there is we have no reason to believe it will be extended over a long period. Further, if the likelihood does increase then we will be much more active in terms of safety advice and so on. So we would really not wish anyone to be alarmed or over react to what is just a sensible contingency because the possibility of something has heightened.