Determined West Midlands firefighters last night vowed to continue with industrial action in the increasingly bitter row over a new shift system until their demands are met.
Three- quarters of the regional Fire Brigades Union membership had voted in favour of the first walk-out, which lasted three hours from 6pm. Armed forces personnel were brought in to provide emergency cover.
Firefighter Clive Mason, who is based at Sheldon, began his shift at 4pm and was due to finish at midnight, but walked out at 6pm for the three-hour stoppage.
He said: "I am totally in support of this strike. It's quite appropriate this has happened after a weekend remembering people who fell at war in the battle for democracy. We are fighting to try to return to a democratic way of running the public services.
"The main thing we hope to achieve is beyond just the three issues we are striking over - shift changes, annual leave and travel expenses.
"That's just the straw that has broken the camel's back. We want some common sense to return and to get back to the one team we always were.
"But enough is enough. We will continue to take a stand to put an end to cuts being made within the fire service, and public services generally."
Chris Wood, regional officer of the FBU, said: "The offer the authority put forward was an insult to our members. They have made a paltry offer that equates to half an hour's pay for every firefighter, and they haven't resolved the issue of annual leave.
"At today's meeting, the second biggest fire service in the country was on the brink of a strike and the chief fire officer didn't even attend. It's an insult to us and an insult to the public of the West Midlands.
"We will go as far as it takes to get the West Midlands Fire Authority around a table to resolve these issues. Our members are saying, quite clearly, we will only call off industrial action if you give us a fair settlement."
A trainee firefighter, who did not want to be named, said they were not asking for more money, but had been hit financially by recent changes to shifts. He said: "It's not that we want anything extra, but at the moment we are at a financial loss. I'm now having to travel into Birmingham from Staffordshire, but my wife's just had a baby and I can't afford it.
"It's not just the changes but the way the brigade went about doing it. It's like a dictatorship. We have been treated like children. Management ask us for goodwill, but goodwill has to go both ways.
"We didn't want to go on strike. It was a last resort, and there was a lot of soul searching, right up until 5.55pm when we were due to start work."
A female firefighter, who did not want to be named, said: "The new system is not family friendly. You wake up the rest of your family when you get up at 5am. Then you wake them up when you get in at midnight.
"There's no way to get home at midnight if you don't have a car and it's not safe for a female firefighter to be walking home alone across Birmingham at that time of night."
Fire control staff, who are also FBU members, have not been directly affected by shift changes but also took part in the strike.
Sasha Farley, aged 29, from Marston Green, works at the brigade's Birmingham city centre headquarters at Lancaster Circus. She said: "We are supporting the firefighters because if the management can treat 2,000 firefighters the way that they have then what stops them doing it to fire control, who are a minority?"
Philippa Jenkin, aged 33, from Erdington, who also works in fire control, said: "I wanted to show my solidarity with the firefighters because there are a lot of changes going on within the service, including regionalisation, which will have a big impact on us. You never know when you are going to need their support.
"The changes are affecting morale. I'm prepared to strike for as long as the FBU wants."