FIREFIGHTERS on Merseyside last night formally agreed to end their dispute but as they did so they reiterated their call for the chief officer to resign.

Relations between Malcolm Saunders and the Fire Brigades' Union remain strained following two strikes which saw the military brought on the streets.

Mr Saunders' call for non-uniform personnel to be promoted to senior officer rank led to the walkouts and now union bosses are questioning whether he can stay.

Mr Saunders had claimed the idea would increase the number of women and ethnic minorities in the brigade but the unions claimed it would jeopardise their members' safety

The chief officer said last night he was looking forward to "co-operation" from the unions.

A decision to call off the second strike was taken last Thursday following an announcement by the Merseyside Fire Authority that they would not be implementing Mr Saunders' plan.

They also said they "regretted" the course of action which had resulted in the strikes being called.

As a result, union leaders called their members back to work and this move was formally ratified yesterday at a meeting of the union's brigade committee.

Last night, Les Skarratts, the FBU's secretary on Merseyside said: "The committee voted to accept the offer from the authority which, as a result has now resolved the dispute.

"But it has to be said, I think this was a dispute that could have been avoided and we should not have had to take this course of action."

He continued: "We will now be working very hard with the elected members of the fire authority but the Brigade Committee's position is that we are still seeking the resignation of Malcolm Saunders.

"However, it is now very much a matter for him and a matter for his conscience and we will wait and see what happens."

Merseyside fire crews were on strike for 12 days.

The action began on the morning of Friday, July 13, for eight days. A second strike began on Monday, July 23 and was also scheduled to last eight days. However, it ended halfway through.

Mr Saunders told the Daily Post yesterday: "Obviously, I am very pleased that there is now a definite agreement and it confirms the committee's commitment to improve diversity in the fire service.

"I hope that now we can return to work and put the dispute behind us and I am hopeful of co-operation from the unions."