FIREFIGHTERS in And-over breathed a collective sigh of relief following the news that the first two 48-hours strikes had been cancelled.

Leading firefighter Rob Dellow: "There is huge relief from just about everybody I have spoken to that we are not going on strike this week."

He and his colleagues are delighted the Government has started talking. "So really they now have until 6 November, when the first strike has now been put back to, to sort something out.

"It's just a relief for all the firefighters that for the time being they are not going to have to make that horrible moral decision."

But he warned if nothing came of the current talks firefighters were still prepared to walk out for the already-scheduled eight-day strike due to start on Wednesday.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Mike Gates said: "We take considerable encouragement in the fact that both parties in the negotiations are presumably making sufficient progress that they feel confident enough to suspend the first 48-hour strikes. We are now keeping our fingers crossed that progress can continue to be made so that we won't have any strikes at all."

This week firefighters' leaders and local authority employers have been discussing a three-year inflation breaking deal.

Talks were scheduled for Wednesday and yesterday, but the Fire Brigades' Union refused to lift the threat of four eight-day stoppages before Christmas.

Sir George Bain, heading an inquiry into the service, agreed to make some of his initial findings available by the end of this week.