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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Monday, 27 May

Federation Chamber
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
Belmont and Tingira Heights Fire Stations

SPEECH

Questioner Responder
Speaker Owens, Julie, MP Question No.

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (13:15): I rise to support the member for Shortland’s motion. In doing so, I must say I greatly regret that it is still necessary to have this resolution before this house. Late last year, on 26 November, I spoke on the same issue, which concerns the threat to vital emergency services in my community in Parramatta and in New South Wales more broadly. I must add that the issue is not confined to the electorate of Shortland but is statewide. Firefighting is not just about property; it is literally a matter of life and death, for the community
and for the firefighters themselves. It is an essential front-line service. The responsibility of every government is to protect and fund essential services in their jurisdiction. The state government of New South Wales has failed in this duty.

I say that I regret that this resolution is necessary because the danger—of which I warned in November of 2012 —of taking fire stations offline persists. In fact, it has spread, and it has become much more noticeable in my electorate of Parramatta. The practice involves standing down and closing a fire station when a firefighter is unexpectedly unable to come to work, for reasons such as illness or family emergency. The obvious alternative is to call back or call in replacement firefighters to staff the shift. However, under current New South Wales policy, to save money the whole shift is taken offline—so that overtime, or call back costs, are not paid.
What disturbs me greatly is that this practice has now been extended from covering only  unpredictable absences to covering absences which are not only predictable but programmed, such as firefighters taking annual leave and long service leave. The original idea of not  replacing staff in the case of unplanned absence was bad enough, but the spread, from November last year, to all types of absences is simply gambling with property and with
lives. When it comes to the fire brigade, response times matter, and the location of stations matters. Issues such as density, factories and types of industries must be taken into account. When a station is offline, another station, further away, with other obligations, has to step in. Such a station will not be able to match the response times of the closer station.

I am also disturbed that stations are being shut down or taken offline more frequently in some areas than in others. Since I spoke to this house in November 2012, there have been, at the fire station in Merrylands, within my electorate, no less than 56 occasions when the shift has been taken off line, or ‘TOLed’, as they call it. That means they were unable to be responsive to fires and emergencies in the Merrylands area. Those occasions meant that the station was closed for a range of times, for between two hours and a total 12-hour shift. That meant hundreds
of hours of the lack of an emergency service which is needed 24 hours a day and relies upon a call response time measured in minutes—that is the time limit they need to meet if they are to save property and lives. No other suburb in my electorate has such a poor service availability record. 

The Rydalmere station, almost in my electorate, has faced it from the other side. It has been a relief station. It has been required to move up on quite a few occasions for stations as far away as Cranebrook in Penrith and Macquarie Fields when they have had units taken offline. This happened to Rydalmere 23 times between November last year and 18 May this year. We had Darlinghurst Station in King’s Cross providing relief, or a move up, to the Parramatta station in November last year. That was for a whole day, and I should say that Darlinghurst station is 45 minutes to an hour away from Parramatta, through incredible traffic. We have sirens on fire trucks because response times matter. If you need a fire station in Merrylands, for example,

you need it full time. Fires do not take a break when a fireman gets sick and a station is shut down, and it is madness to bring a fire truck under siren from Darlinghurst to Parramatta to respond to a fire. Travelling under siren is dangerous in its own right. 

I speak for every elector and citizen in the federal seat of Parramatta serviced and protected by stations such as Rydalmere, Parramatta and Merrylands when I say: this practice of station closure, of stations being taken offline, is simply dangerous and we are fearful that one day our luck will run out. My local dedicated firefighters cannot speak for themselves; the government that employs them has forbidden that they comment publicly. So I am speaking for them. One day they will not make it in time. A fire that could have been contained will spread
to a neighbouring property, and someone who could have been saved will be injured or killed. One day they will be sent to an unfamiliar urban or factory environment where they lack local knowledge and cannot respond as appropriately as they might in their own environment. They will drive far too many kilometres under siren, a dangerous process in itself. Safety is a community issue, and it works best when our local emergency services
and our local councils, factory owners and residents work together to reduce risks and when firefighters know where the greatest local risks are. I strongly support the motion of the member for Shortland and I hope that other members in this House also stand up to support their local firefighters and their community.

About Darin Sullivan (1967 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is 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. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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