Fire and Rescue New South Wales has pushed ahead with its controversial cost saving measure of temporarily shutting stations to cut down on overtime claims.
Six fire stations across the state were closed overnight because of a shortage of firefighters due to sickness or leave.
The measure is the subject of an ongoing industrial dispute with the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union.
Commissioner Greg Mullins says only two should have shut but industrial action forced another four to close.
“What they’re trying to do is protect exorbitant overtime payments,” Mr Mullins said.
He says Fire and Rescue NSW is trying to change a culture of staff taking sickies.
“Firefighters are reducing their sick leave and that’s great. That’s going in the right direction and if we’re successful there will be no need to take these measures,” Mr Mullins said.
“We wish the union would work with us to stop what looks like being a $15 million blowout in overtime.”
Fire management have blamed overtime payments for a $7 million overspend in last year’s budget.
But union state secretary Jim Casey insists the dispute is about safety and shutting stations could cost lives.
“You will wait longer for a fire engine and that can very easily lead to tragic consequences,” Mr Casey said.
Opposition Leader John Robertson agrees shutting stations is potentially dangerous.
“The O’Farrell Government’s obsession with cost cutting is now putting public safety at risk with the regular closure of fire stations right across the state,” Mr Robertson said.
“As these stations are closed we are going to see longer response times. That means a higher likelihood of property loss and the potential for the loss of life.”