OUTRAGED NSW firefighters are fuming about being issued with new $17 million worth of uniforms they claim are too hot for them to wear in fire trucks.
Billed as the latest in firefighting technology, 13,900 new suits are being rolled out by Fire and Rescue NSW to stations across the state.
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But the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) has been inundated with complaints from furious firefighters who say the outfits are poorly designed and riddled with faults.
The suits – made by Pacific Brands at a cost to taxpayers of $17.3 million – contain a new “moisture barrier” between the fabric designed to keep heat out and provide added protection against steam burns.
But firefighters say the barrier actually causes them to overheat inside the suits and makes it impossible for them to wear the outfits on the way to and from jobs.
They say vital time is being wasted as they are forced to change into the uniforms after arriving at the scene of a blaze.
They also claim the zippers on the suits don't work properly, the pockets are too small for the brigade's regulation radios and the boots are uncomfortable.
Firefighters have also complained about the decision to replace the elastic waist of the pants with braces – saying they continually slip off – and that they weren't issued with appropriate clothes to wear under the suit.
There are 53 stations in Sydney which have been equipped with the uniforms, which contain microchips that track when they need to be cleaned.
One firefighter told The Sunday Telegraph the problems with the uniforms could have been avoided if there had been proper consultation with those on the ground.
“The fact they are hotter hasn't been adequately explained to firefighters.”
“They didn't properly consider our conditions or how we operate,” he said. “They may be great in Europe or wherever, but they aren't necessarily the right suits for us in Australia. They've certainly made a mess of this – and they could have avoided it with better consultation.”
FBEU secretary Jim Casey said the executive would hold a meeting about the new suits on Thursday following complaints by members
Mr Casey said the union was investigating a number of complaints about the suits as well as reports from firefighters that they suffered burns to their legs because the zippers did not work properly. He said the union had also written to the department expressing concerns about the new suits and particularly the way the rollout was being handled.
“There is no doubt the suits will offer better protection in fires but the fact they are hotter hasn't been adequately explained to firefighters,” Mr Casey said.
Fire and Rescue NSW has dismissed the concerns and said the only complaints they had about the uniforms was when zippers had come undone on the way to an incident – and that “this was because the zipper was not fastened correctly in the first place”.
“The zipper on the new Personal Protective Clothing is exactly the same as that used on the old uniform. Firefighters have been provided with information advising how to correctly fasten the zipper,” a spokeswoman said.
She said it was incorrect that the pockets on the jackets did not fit the fire service's radios.
“Fire and Rescue NSW does provide a leather carrying case with a belt clip for the radio when it is … clipped to the wearer's belt,” the spokeswoman said.
“Some firefighters have tried to put the radio with carry case and clip into the pockets of the new jackets – the pockets are not designed to accommodate the case and the clip.”
The spokeswoman also said reports about the new pants and boots had been “overwhelmingly positive”.
Firies and the state government are at loggerheads over $64 million in budget cuts and entitlements over the next four years, which the union claims will see some stations close.