So I had less than half an hour to prepare and get my head round what was happening. No time to write any script or even notes, just to decide with my excellent producer Carl how to handle it. And to think, an hour earlier we had been bemoaning the fact that there was bugger all news around and had been reduced to thinking about covering the fact that the mayor of an Italian town, Castellodemarre di Stabio, had decided to ban local women from wearing mini skirts. No doubt he'd quite approve of the burkha...
James Whale, who's on before me, was interviewing a union rep so we thought we'd go to the employers. When Carl rang them it seemed they had been caught on the hop. They hadn't heard of the FBU decision. I thought what I'd do in their position. Take legal advice. Let's get a lawyer on, I thought.
In the end, though, we decided to initially go combat. By which I mean, not get any guests on, just let's find out what Londoners thought. So we went straight to the phones. Some people, like me, couldn't understand why firefighters would put people's lives at risk by striking on the busiest day of the year from the fire brigade. Others defended their right to do it. I made my views perfectly clear but I hope in a way which even those who disagreed with me could respect. Some calls got quite firey (excuse the pun), but most were thoughtful. With one exception every firefighter who phoned in supported what their union was doing - slightly to my surprise. We decided to take it over the eight o'clock hour - normally we only do an hour on any one subject. But the calls kept on coming. We had a full switchboard from minute one, to the end of the show three hours later. I could compile a book from the number of tweets and texts we got.
Just before 9 Ian Leahair called. He's on the executive council of the FBU. I don't mind admitting, I gave him a bit of a grilling. It was a far more aggressive interview than you'll normally hear me give, because I felt I had to reflect the anger which people were clearly feeling. He gave as good as he got and in the end admitted that if someone died on Bonfire night as a result of there being a lack of fire cover he would have to examine his conscience.
While I was speaking to him I saw on my screen that Brian Coleman was phoning in too. You know you are doing something right when the two leading protagonists feel the need to call in and speak.
Brian Coleman is a man who polarises views. No one has a weak opinion about Brian. He's the ultimate marmite politician. He made it clear that no ground would be given. Indeed, when I put it to him that he was trying to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers, not only did he not deny it, he seemed to revel in the comparison. I pressed him several times on the fire cover which would be available on 5th November but he was unable to reassure me that the cover would be any better than it was on Saturday. I accused him of deploying the same bullying tactics the union were deploying, which he denied.
At the end I asked what he would do if firefighters refused to sign the new contracts and it became clear that he really does intend to follow through on the threats to sack any firefighters who doesn't sign the new contracts which will be issued on 26 November. "What then?" I said. "We will rebuild the fire service," he replied. Later in the programme we spoke to the Fire Minister Bob Neill too, who said he wouldn't be getting involved but then proceeded to give the FBU a right royal slagging off.
And then, after 3 hours it was all over. It was my first experience of real breaking news. Could I handle it? Could I go for three hours holding a real conversation with Londoners, interview with main parties, give my own views and still maintain a balanced programme? Well, it's not for me to say whether I achieved all that, but I enjoyed every minute of trying. And judging from the reaction on Twitter, so did many of the audience. I'm not listing these tweets to blow my own trumpet, but anyone who's been through presenting a programme like this will understand how important it is to gauge audience feedback. All I hope is that all those who phoned in thought they were given a fair crack of the whip.
@iaindale I love listening to @lbc973 when a breaking story is on :) very exciting!
Iain Dale handling the Fire brigade union
boss very effectively. Unlike the BBC, Iain actually lets the interviewee speak!
Iain Dale's coverage of the FBU bonfire story will get me listening to LBC in the evenings again.
@iaindale @lbc973 Excellent coverage tonight. You were just right with how you dealt with both the callers and and the management, Mps and union. The time flew. I hope you can now enjoy a rest.
@iaindale really do like the show & your way of presenting iain. way too relaxed for a hammer!!