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Fire safety concerns

Tuesday, 31st July, 2012

Station Commander Scott Parker is worried that cuts to the NSW Fire and Rescue budget could result in local staff shortages. Station Commander Scott Parker is worried that cuts to the NSW Fire and Rescue budget could result in local staff shortages.

Budget cuts could put city at risk

By Darrin Manuel

The city's fire service could be at risk of intermittent closures and response time blowouts if the NSW Government goes ahead with plans to slash Fire and Rescue NSW's budget.

Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) President, Darin Sullivan, has predicted that some stations won't be able to maintain safe staffing levels if the $64 million worth of cuts are made.

The FBEU said a cut in funding would leave stations unable to afford to call in replacement firefighters if staff are sick or on leave.

The Broken Hill station requires a Station Officer (SO) and three firefighters to be present to safely respond to emergencies if an incident arises.

The station generally has an SO and four firefighters on standby, but is often reduced to an SO and three firefighters when permanent staff are on annual leave.

Fire Brigade Employees' Union State Secretary, Jim Casey, said the local station would have to rely on retained firefighters should staff numbers fall below the minimum safe level due to annual leave or sickness.

"With regional areas such as Broken Hill, when they don't have a full complement of regular firefighters, they'll have to rely on
retained firefighters to make up the numbers," said Mr Casey.

"And while they do the job every bit as good, they've got their own regular employment and families to consider.

"They'll get the page (to come in), have to get down to the station, get kitted up, then get in the truck... there's going to be a big blowout in response time."

That response blowout could be as large as ten minutes if there is not enough staff on hand according to Station Commander, Scott Parker.

"Anything that's going to happen in Sydney can happen here, no station is exempt," he said.

"If we were to get a call right now we'd be out the door in two or three minutes, but if you have to call someone in, you could be waiting five or ten minutes extra for them to arrive.

"Those minutes could be so vital depending on the incident, it could be a matter of life and death at the most extreme situation, and that's why we have permanent firefighters in Broken Hill."

The FBEU also voiced concerns that the cuts would see firefighters coming in to work sick, putting themselves and other firefighters
at risk.

Mr Parker said such practices could cause even further problems with sick leave and staffing levels.

"That would be the case ... Everyone works in such close proximity, if one person gets a cold, you could easily soon have three or four off with a cold."

The FBEU took their complaints to the Industrial Relations Committee yesterday, however the matter was adjourned until Thursday.

In the meantime Mr Casey said he would meet with Emergency Services Minister, Mike Gallacher, in an attempt to defuse the situation.

"I'm hoping sanity will prevail and these budget cuts won't be imposed on Fire and Rescue NSW," said Mr Casey.

"However with that being said, I'm not holding my breath."

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