Several women and children have now burned to death during the nationwide fire fighters' strike, and a worried British government today threw another 4,000 troops into the grim battle of the blaze here.
The unprecedented pay dispute in this most vital of civilian services goes into its 10th day Wednesday with no sign that settlement is near.
The newly drafted troops brings the total of soldier, sailors and airmen fighting fires to 14,000, the size of the complement that normally polices Ulster. A selected contigent of 1,000 is to serve as a special-unit distributed among the big cities, rushing to fires too difficult for the front-line troops to handle.
In the strike's first five days, the hurriedly trained troops enjoyed a remarkable degree of success, or luck.They are using 20 year-old equipment with ladders reaching only to the second stories and no turntables to pivot them into position.
While there were fire-related deaths during the period, not a single one could be traced to the walkout of the 32,00 fire fighters.
That record was broken on Saturday, however, when a 14-year-old boy burned to death in a haystack. Now, the toll mounts each day. On Monday, a 10-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother died in a London blaze.
The willing but inexperienced troops could not reach the fire for 20 minutes, while professionals would normally take five minutes or less for such a call. The delay was partly caused by lack of familiarity with the neighborhood and partly because of the routine imposed on the soldiers. Before they can turn out, a police car first responds to an alarm to insure that it is not a hoax. The soldiers do not follow with the outdated equipment until they are certain that a real blaze has begun.
Today, a woman victim was found in a London apartment.
For Prime Minister James Callaghan's Cabinet, the walkout is a crucial test of an anti-inflation policy to hold wage increases at 10 per cent.
For the firemen, reluctant strikers who sometimes leave picket lines to help troops fight blazes in hospitals or other vulnerable buildings, there is an equal determination to catch up with their workers in industry.
An experienced firefighter now gets about $120 a week for 48 hours. The government would raise his pay to $132 and cut six hours off his work week next fall. This is officially called a 10 per cent gain, but is really 26 per cent.
The firemen want $157.10 per cent above the average British worker's salary of $143. They also want the work week cut, which makes their total demand 50 per cent.
The government fears that if it yields to the firemen, the nationalized coal miners, railwaymen, power workers and many others will demand the same, touching off a wage explosion. The firemen are unhappy because they have dropped behind on the pay ladder in a dangerous, dirty and vital job.
Both sides appear to have made perilous miscalculations. The government thought the public backed its pay policy and the force of opinion would quickly drive strikers back to work. But officials failed to sense the great outpouring of special feeling for firemen.
Shopkeepers are handing out food, rum, cigarettes, firewood and other goods to the uniformed men on the lines. Thousands are signing petitions in their support. Other citizens contribute one- and five-pound bills. There is backing for the pay policy in general, but a strong undercurrent of sympathy for firemen in particular.
Furthermore, firemen have never struck here before and the bargaining has been clumsy. One solution might retain the 10 per cent pay formula - but fatten fringes such as overtime. There is little, however, to indicate that this has surfaced on the bargaining table.
There have been great fears that the Irish Republican Army would take advantage of the strike in Ulster to set off fire bombs and then shoot soldiers battling the blazes. So far, the terrorists have been relatively quiet.