Hundreds of firefighters from across Britain have converged on Aylesbury to protest against the sacking of Bucks fireman Ricky Matthews.
The Fire Brigades Union says Mr Matthews, who worked at Aylesbury Fire Station for more than 17 years, was dismissed after not coming in to work on the day of a planned strike.
Bucks Fire and Rescue said Mr Matthews should have turned up as the strike was unlawful and should not have gone ahead due to an administrative error on the FBU’s strike notice.
His sacking has gained significant media attention as he is the only fireman out of 30,000 taking strike action to lose his job.
Celebrity political activist Russell Brand has even lent his voice to the campaign by advertising the march on Twitter.
The FBU’s general secretary Matt Wrack, who is leading today’s protest, said: “We think it is an appalling way to treat someone who has given 17 years of service to the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service and we are here to make a stand for Ricky and for our pensions.
“The Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Authority doesn’t seem to recognise that the dispute over pay is between the firefighter and the government. We are appealing to the Chief Fire Officer to come and sit down with us and resolve this issue.”
Despite freezing temperatures, coach loads of firefighters travelled from all corners of the country to congregate at the Oakfield Road Park before marching into Aylesbury town centre.
A few police officers lined the route to make sure that traffic could still pass and several drivers beeped their horns in support of those on strike.
Firefighter Gordon Chalk of the Sunderland Fire Service said: “Striking is always a last resort for us. We make huge financial losses and our jobs are put at risk. But Ricky has been bullied out of his job and we are here to help him get it back.”
Tommy Richardson from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Services added: “We have been on the coach since half five this morning to support Ricky. It is a complete injustice, a disgrace and a blatant case of unlawful dismissal.”
Mr Matthews appeared overwhelmed at the turnout, which also included brigades from Scotland, the Isle of White and Northern Ireland.
He said: “All I want to do is be reinstated, it is all I have ever done and all I am good at. I have a family to feed, I just want to get back to work.
“Everyone is here to show me support and to get me re-instated as a firefighter because they see it as a massive injustice, which I believe it is. There has been outrage and that is what has drawn people here today. Firefighters are a family and they have come here to help me.”
The FBU said it is now taking legal action against Bucks Fire and Rescue over Mr Matthews’ dismissal.
Chief Fire Officer at the Bucks Fire and Rescue Service, Mark Jones, said: “We note today’s demonstration and the anger expressed by the Fire Brigades Union and its supporters. Although the demonstration was colourful and seemingly a useful distraction for the FBU leadership, it has made no difference whatsoever to the situation within Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service.”
He added: “The FBU has announced its intention to take legal action apparently to establish the legality of its previous strike notification. It seems that they had taken this view prior to today’s demonstration, causing me to doubt what the demonstration was supposed to be for.
“Now that it is clear that this will be dealt with through the courts, no amount of local actions, demonstrations or abuse on social media will do anything to affect the outcomes of those legal proceedings.”