Fire service plays ‘Russian roulette’

Fire service plays ‘Russian roulette’ | St George & Sutherland Shire Leader.

IT IS only a matter of time until there is a death or serious injury because of temporary closures of fire stations in St George and Sutherland Shire, warn the Fire Brigade Employees Union.

There were eight temporary closures or suspensions of fire trucks in the past month at Miranda, Sutherland, Riverwood and Hurstville under a new policy aimed at reducing overtime costs.

Stations are going ‘‘temporarily offline’’ when there is not enough staff to cover a shift because of  sickness or leave so Fire and Rescue NSW meets state government  budget cuts.

A Fire and Rescue NSW spokeswoman said taking fire trucks temporarily offline was not a new practice.

‘‘On each of these occasions, Arncliffe, Engadine, Randwick, Miranda, Mortdale, Cronulla, Matraville, Maroubra, Bundeena, Menai and other fire stations were available to cover fires and other emergencies in the area,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Community safety was not compromised while these fire trucks and stations were offline.’’

Sydney South Sub-branch secretary Mick Nairn said it took one hour and three minutes for a heavy rescue truck to attend a collapsed balcony at Brighton-Le-Sands on Saturday. He blames the delay on the cut-backs.

Mr Narin said the Hurstville heavy rescue truck was unable to attend because it was offline, leaving a crew to travel from Eastwood, about 30 kilometres away.

‘‘By picking different stations to close at random [Fire and Rescue NSW] are playing Russian roulette,’’ Mr Nairn said. ‘‘By moving trucks to other areas to fill holes we are also losing local knowledge, which also affects how quick we can get to an emergency.’’

The service was taking measures to reduce overtime costs after the overtime budget was exceeded by $8 million last year, the spokeswoman said.

‘‘With just 25 percent remaining, the overtime budget is being protected so that funds will be available should the need arise to call in additional firefighters during major bushfires and other major emergencies,’’ she said.

A Hurstville firefighter said his heavy rescue crew had been taken offline at least five times since the measures began.

‘‘It is only a matter of time until something does go wrong and blood will be on the hands of the NSW government,’’ he said.

He said it took 25 minutes for Hurstville’s heavy rescue truck to get to Liverpool last week because all other appliances in south Sydney were offline.

On any given day, up to 20 Sydney fire stations can be offline, without compromising community safety, so that firefighters can attend training or undertake activities such as bushfire hazard reduction burns, a FRNSW spokeswoman said.

Sutherland Shire:


November 5: Miranda fire station closed for 1 hours at start and end of shift to allow for other brigades from other stations to travel there.

November 5-6: Staff absences closed Riverwood fire station from 6pm until 8am the following day. A crew from Ashfield fire station assigned to cover the area on November 6.

November 24-25: Heavy rescue truck offline for 25 hours until 7pm on November 25. A NSW Fire and Rescue spokeswoman said the second truck was operational.

November 27: Kogarah fire station ladder platform truck offline overnight.

November 30: Heavy rescue truck offline for day shift at  Hurstville fire station.

December 1: Heavy rescue truck offline for the night shift at Hurstville fire station.

December 1: Kogarah ladder platform truck offline for day shift.

December 2: Sutherland fire station closed for 1 hours at start and 45 minutes at end of day shift because it was short a firefighter. Closed to allow a Mascot fire station truck to travel over and back early to avoid overtime costs.

■ What do you think about the temporary closure of fire stations?

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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