‘This union is not crushed, this union is not defeated, this union is united and it will be ready for a fight on pensions,’ FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack told delegates at the union’s Annual Conference in Southport yesterday.

He was proposing the Executive Council’s Emergency Resolution 2 on pensions, which states that there will be an immediate recall of conference if ‘detrimental changes’ are proposed by the government to the firefighters’ pension scheme.

Wrack continued: ‘If there are detrimental changes to our pensions scheme this conference will be recalled.

‘If that happens we have to be prepared to take action and I hope we will be prepared to take strike action.’

A number of areas of the union led by Buckinghamshire FBU were ready to commit themselves to strike action there and then – but others were more cautious.

Buckinghamshire’s Resolution 56 called on the EC ‘to resist all detrimental changes by coordinating a campaign of action with other trade unions including, if necessary, industrial action.’

In the debate Tony McGuire, a delegate from the Northern Ireland fire service, insisted: ‘I urge the delegates at this conference to prepare yourselves, if this campaign requires a ballot for strike action then that’s what we’re going to have to do.’

Opening the debate on Emergency Resolution 2, on Resolution 49, Pension Rights and Resolution 56 jointly, Matt Wrack said: ‘Conference will recall that last Autumn, the government unveiled its pension plans. the proposed changes were, in our opinion, fundamentally flawed and would have a massive negative effect on our members.’

He added: ‘A number of public service unions signalled their intention to take strike action in the run-up to the general election.

‘At the eleventh hour, surprise surprise, there was an intervention from the Minister for Work and Pensions, Alan Johnson.

‘Of course we welcome this late move by the government, but I don’t believe anyone in this hall doesn’t have genuine suspicion of the motives for that retreat.

‘The government has retreated for now, but has made no real concessions. I think deep down we all know that they will be back again.’

Seconding the emergency resolution, Dave Williams from Cheshire FBU said: ‘The resolution speaks for itself – from now on the serious business will begin.

‘The resolution calls for common action.

‘Clear strategy needs to be given from the leadership down.

‘The membership needs the facts – at the end of the day it will be the membership that leads this battle. If and when the recall comes, we must give the leadership the mandate they require.’

Andy Rowlands, Tyne and Wear FBU, said: ‘Members believe that the pensions proposals are nothing but a theft, a theft of their deferred wages. If the fresh start fails to provide a satisfactory solution I’m sure our members will be prepared to act.’

At the end of the debate, Buckinghamshire delegates deferred to caution and withdrew Resolution 56, and Emergency Resolution 2 was agreed unanimously by delegates, with Resolution 49 also carried.