NSW govt closing fire stations ‘risk to community’

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CUTTING $70 million from Fire and Rescue NSW’s budget will cause fire stations to close and put communities at great risk, a union says.

The O’Farrell government’s earmarking of $70 million for a NSW budget cut has brought warnings about the temporary closure of stations across the state.

Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) NSW president Darin Sullivan says there won’t be enough staff to man them.

“Closing stations instead of staffing them is a bad idea and dangerous for the community,” Mr Sullivan told AAP on Sunday.

The drop in funding will mean stations will be forced to close if a firefighter is not able to work their shift.

Previously a replacement could be called in, but under the cuts this would not be possible, Mr Sullivan said.

Mr Sullivan is also worried this would put pressure on firefighters to come into work when they were under the weather, putting them at risk.

“(This will) force firefighters to come to work sick.”

“You can’t put a face mask on with an air cylinder with a head cold, you just can’t do it, you can’t breathe.”

The FBEU is taking the case to the industrial relations court on Monday.

Mr Sullivan said he was not optimistic the court will overturn the decision and was prepared to fight the cuts with industrial action.

“It’s a roll of the dice tomorrow in the commission and failing that we will continue to run our case in the public.”

“We’ll consider ongoing industrial action if need be, if either ourselves or the community are at risk.”

A spokeswoman for emergency services minister Andrew Gallacher said the government was elected with a mandate to reduce waste and cost blowouts which requires making some tough decisions.

“Almost all government agencies have been asked to reduce their employee-related expenses by 1.2% this year,” she said in a statement.

“Firefighters’ rates of sick leave and other unplanned leave has resulted in the overtime bill reaching $24 million last year – $7 million over budget.

“Like other heads of departments, Commissioner Mullins has been given the flexibility to decide how the savings will be achieved.”

Opposition emergency services spokesman Nathan Rees said the government should be opening fire stations, not ripping millions from the fire brigade’s budget – a move that will compromise community safety.

“It’s a simple equation – longer response times mean more burnt-out buildings and more risk to life,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

“In a state like NSW with its unforgiving climate, there is no excuse for closing stations and cutting firefighters under any circumstances.”

About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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