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Station 'able to be closed'

Tuesday, 30th September, 2008

The NSW Fire Brigade says the public's safety will not be compromised by a plan to shut the South Fire Station for short periods.

The city's Central Fire Station is staffed 24 hours a day by permanent firefighters, and that workforce is bolstered by retained firefighters who work on a call-in basis.

The South station is manned solely by retained firefighters who are called in when needed.The South station is one of 33 across the State that have been identified by the NSW Fire Brigade as "substantially covered by other stations" and able to be closed when staff is short.

A minimum of four firefighters is needed to respond to an emergency.

Traditionally if four retained firefighters cannot be found, a permanent firefighter has been called in to make up the numbers by working overtime. 

In a bid to save money in what is viewed by the NSW Fire Briagde as a rort of this system, it will now close the station if there aren't enough staff available during a shift.

The change is part of a new industrial agreement that secured a 12.6 per cent pay increase for firefighters over three years.

But concerns have been raised about the appropriateness of Broken Hill's inclusion in the scheme. 

In metropolitan areas there is more overlap of stations, whereas only two fire stations service Broken Hill and its surrounds.

Neil Harris, NSW Fire Chief Superintendent and Regional West Area Controller, said yesterday that "in no way is the community's safety being placed in peril".

He said even in the event of the South station being shut, retained firefighters would still be able to respond to emergencies alongside their Central counterparts.

"We will still have the numbers at the scene," he said.

"What you'll find is the Station Officer will know the capabilities in town and will liase with the South Captain to keep things going if there is a shortfall.

"But while there's no need for a pump, we'll have no need to recall firefighters."

The Central and South stations each call upon about 14 retained firefighters.

"We've got a lot of fat in the sandwich, so to speak," said Mr Harris.

"There were only a handful of times last year where we had to recall firefighters to cover any shortfall, and in an extreme situation we would recall people."

Even if firefighters from the Central station were called to Wilcannia, for instance, Mr Harris said he was confident the system could work.

"The Commissioner does not make a decision like this lightly," he said.

"It's business as usual for us owing to the professionalism of our retained firefighters."

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