Government must put forward funding if officers are expected to provide cover â€“ or resilience may be an issue, warns Fed.
National police resources could be stretched to the limit and throw the resilience of the service into question if a strike by firefighters goes ahead.
Speaking after members of the Fire Brigades Union voted in favour of strike action amid a dispute over pensions, the Police Federationâ€™s Vice Chairman Steve White said the Police Service would step up to the mark if required â€“ but warned that resilience could be an issue.
During the last strikes by firefighters in 2002 â€“ when the Army was drafted in to provide cover â€“ the economic situation was less volatile and police resources were growing.
However, the last three years since the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010 have seen force budgets squeezed resulting in the number of officers and staff declining significantly.
Mr White told PoliceOracle.com: â€œWe will do whatever we are asked if the government decides we need to assist the Army or any other organisation with fire brigade calls.
â€œWe have always said that we are a â€˜can doâ€™ service but the issue of resilience is key â€“ it may be the case that if we are assisting we may not be able to do other things.â€
Mr White, who pointed out that all public sector organisations are currently under close scrutiny, suggested that the bill for providing cover could be met through overtime.
He added: â€œProviding cover is not going to impact on the front line â€“ providing somebody is picking up the bill. The strikes are going to cost in terms of either money or resilience.â€
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have criticised the governmentâ€™s proposals to raise the retirement age of firefighters to 60 as â€œunworkableâ€. They claim that the rise could see personnel struggling to cope with the physical demands of their work.
Nearly 80 per cent of FBU members â€“18,277 â€“ voted in favour of national strike action.
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: â€œWe cannot expect large numbers of firefighters in their late 50s to fight fires and rescue families without creating danger to the public and firefighters. We have repeatedly raised safety concerns and provided strong evidence to back it up but the government just is not listening.
â€œThis result is a clear indication of the anger felt by firefighters.
â€œIt is still not too late for common sense to prevail if the government are willing to return to the negotiating table. None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety.â€
During strike action, trained soldiers could be used to drive fire appliances as the Armyâ€™s own vehicles â€“ known as Green Godesses â€“ have now been retired and sold off.
However, it is now the legal responsibility of individual fire authorities to provide an acceptable level of cover in the event of a strike â€“ and the role does not automatically fall to the military, the Department for Communities and Local Government has confirmed.
A spokesman for the department told PoliceOracle.com: â€œThe contingency plans have all been signed off â€“ the military could be deployed in some cases in extremis.
â€œIf there is a strike, a return to work protocol has been agreed in the event of a major incident.â€
Firefightersâ€™ strike: â€˜Police resilience could be compromisedâ€™ (Â£..)