Firefighters will start voting on strike in the latest industrial dispute over below-inflation pay offers.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the "historic ballot" comes after its members rejected a 5% increase to their wages.
The FBU pointed out that inflation currently stands at a record 11.1% and said firefighters and control staff need a "substantial pay increase" that reflects the cost of living crisis.
Matt Wrack, the Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: "This is an historic ballot for firefighters and control staff. We are rarely driven to these lengths.
"Nobody wants to be in this position. After years of derisory pay increases and a pay offer that is well below inflation, firefighters' and control staff's living standards are in peril."
Mr Wrack said firefighters are using foodbanks and "we know that because FBU officials have had to sign off on members going to them".
He added: "Firefighters and control staff worked throughout the pandemic and firefighters took on extra duties including moving the deceased.
"They have now been given a below-inflation pay offer. It is utterly disgraceful to call people 'key workers' and then treat them like this."
Last week, the union warned it would formally issue notice of ballot if its demands were not met by Monday.
With that deadline now passed, members will have from 5 December to 30 January to vote on whether to go on strike
The FBU noted that the government has "no direct role in pay negotiations", but they do "provide a substantial amount of the funding for fire and rescue services".
Pay negotiations happen with representatives from employers - typically local authorities.
However, the FBU insists "a big factor in all of this is central funding".
The ballot comes as the UK faces a winter of discontent as workers from different industries are set to walk out over pay and conditions.
Which industries are striking and why
Nurses, rail workers, civil servants and teachers are among the tens of thousands expected to take industrial action as a recession grips the UK and the cost of living rises.
Ministers have insisted they cannot afford to give striking workers inflation-busting pay rises.
But Labour have criticised the government for refusing to negotiate with unions.
'Scope for agreement' on rail dispute
Members of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are due to stage a fresh wave of strikes next month at Network Rail and 14 train operators which will cripple services.
Disputes over pay, jobs and conditions remain deadlocked despite months of talks and industrial action.
In a letter to RMT boss Mick Lynch, published today, Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted his role is to "facilitate and support, not negotiate".
"Negotiations will continue between trade unions and employers, but I can see scope for agreement," he said.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Steve Barclay insisted yesterday that his "door is open" to resume talks with health unions to avert unprecedented strike action in the NHS.
But Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing union (RCN) , accused the government of being the main obstacle to a deal and choosing "strike over negotiation".