FIRE chiefs say that the service was able to deal with all 999 calls within target times despite firefighters across Hampshire walking out on strike three times.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) took to the picket line as part of nationwide industrial action on Friday, Saturday and yesterday over a long-running dispute with the Government about pensions.

Strike action was held at fire stations in Hampshire from noon to 5pm on Friday, from 2pm on Saturday until 2am yesterday, and from 10am until 3pm yesterday.

Picket line protests were held as the union said that firefighters now have to pay higher pension contributions, and face working into their late 50s before retiring.

The FBU claims that minsters had drawn up alternative proposals six weeks ago and had been “sitting” on them ever since – but the Government has denied these claims.

There were beeps of support from motorists as firefighters from Hightown fire station held up placards and flags as they held a 12-hour strike on Saturday.

Gary Jackson, secretary at Hampshire FBU, said: “We are absolutely appalled at what appears to be a Government minister sitting on a proposal. Hopefully these proposals will bring us back to the negotiating table.

“We are talking about the people going into the buildings when everyone is running out. They are not going to back off from bullying from Government ministers.”

The Government denied the union’s claims. A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The deal on the table gives firefighters one of the most generous pension schemes in all the public sector, and the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme.

“Nearly three-quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015.”

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service chiefs have thanked residents for heeding safety warnings during the strikes.

They said that the service was able to retain about 40 per cent of its emergency response capacity and was able to respond to 999 calls well within the target 20-minute response time. Fire appliances were crewed by retained firefighters and operational staff not based at fire stations.