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Massive safety problem: union

Thursday, 14th April, 2011

DANGEROUS: Union says closure DANGEROUS: Union says closure "massive safety problem.

By Gayle Hogan

Closing the South Fire Station due to a lack of volunteer firefighters poses a "massive safety problem," according to a union representative.

Tim Schofield, the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union Station Delegate told the Barrier Daily Truth the south station was closed for eight hours on Tuesday and will close again tomorrow.

Mr Schofield said the situation was "totally unacceptable" as back up crews would be forced to come from Wentworth in order to operate a second pumping appliance at the South Station in the event of a large fire.

A spokesman for Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) denied community safety was jeopardised by the station closure.

Mr Schofield said the problem could be reversed if Fire and Rescue NSW was prepared to pay off-duty firefighters to be on call.

"They can keep it open if they have off duty permanent firefighters on call.

"They can get permanent firefighters to stand by but they are not prepared to do that.

"Instead they'd rather compromise the safety of the community and permanent firefighters."

An agreement reached in 2008 between the Fire Services Union and NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue NSW) means if there was not a minimum number of four firefighters available at a particular station, it would be shut.

The available firefighters can still attend fires but not in a fire truck.

At the time, the acting region commander, Andrew Cozins said the impact of that change would be unlikely to ever occur locally as there were a good number of volunteers.

However the station has shut at least four times since that agreement.

The station was closed from 8am until 4pm on Tuesday and will close from 8am until 4pm tomorrow. 

"Yesterday (Tuesday 12 April) there was a shortage of available retained, or on call, firefighters at Broken Hill South Fire Station to respond to calls during the hours of 8am-4pm," a spokesman for FRNSW said yesterday. 

"However, full-time and retained firefighters from Broken Hill Central Fire Station were available to respond to incidents during this period and the safety of the community was not compromised. 

"Additionally, the available firefighters attached to Broken Hill South Fire Station were able to attend calls in their private vehicles.

"FRNSW is currently recruiting for retained firefighters and encourages community minded people with daytime availability to apply for these very rewarding positions."

Mr Schofield dismissed suggestions there were not enough retained firefighters.

"We've got plenty it's just they are not available periodically because of their other jobs."

Member for Murray Darling John Williams said he would continue to seek a solution.

"I'll be taking it up with the Minister for Emergency Services, Michael Gallacher." 

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