Angry firefighters have warned they might stage a protest if the government fails to address a long-standing demand that their work week be reduced from 54 hours to 48. A union meeting of more than 1,000 off-duty firefighters in Wan Chai yesterday pledged to fight for reduced hours. Another meeting will be held in Kowloon Tong today. Lee Kei-tak, chairman of the Fire Services Department Staffs General Association, said it was unfair that firefighters worked longer hours than other government workers. 'We have been waiting too long for the government to solve the problem. Our patience has reached a critical point,' he said. They first demanded a shorter work week 21 years ago. At present, firefighters work on a shift system of 24 hours on, 48 hours off. The working hours include standby in stations and training sessions. Lee said the union would collect views from their members and send a letter to the Security Bureau and Civil Service Bureau. If the agencies failed to give a satisfactory reply in two weeks, the union would not rule out the possibility of staging a protest. A smaller-scale protest was held last year. He estimated that about 1,000 off-duty firefighters could join the potential protest. A Legislative Council paper revealed that police officers clock in for 48 hours a week, and correctional service officers work 49 hours, customs officers 51, and immigration officers 44. It said that if firefighters' hours were cut to 48, the department would need to hire 690 more officers, costing an extra HK$270 million. A Fire Services Department spokesman said it would continue to study the possibility of reducing hours under three conditions set by a standing committee on salaries. The conditions involve no additional costs nor manpower and the ability to maintain the same level of service.