The firefighters’ union says a burning issue is about to flare on the back of continued state government budget cuts – and the community’s safety could be put at risk.
Under proposed “risk-based response protocols”, Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) would send fewer trucks to automatic fire alarms and reduce the use of “retained” firefighters.
Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (FBEU) president, and Illawarra firefighter, Darin Sullivan said the changes were part of $20 million worth of cuts from the FRNSW budget this year.
“That looks like it’s going to bite over the next few weeks in regards to some of our retained firefighters,” Mr Sullivan said.
Retained, or on-call, firefighters are used at stations like Balgownie, Corrimal, Albion Park, Kiama and Unanderra.
“It’s called the risk-based response protocol, and it’s a fancy name for ‘save money’,” Mr Sullivan told the Mercury.
“Essentially they’re going to call the part-time firefighters less and rely on full-time firefighters more and that risks, certainly in the union’s view, not getting the quickest appliance to calls but instead getting the cheapest.”
Mr Sullivan said the Illawarra’s retained firefighters were “quite worried” about the new protocols and the union feared response times would be compromised.
“If they really want to make sure the community’s safe, by all means turn [appliances from] more fire stations out, but don’t stop other fire stations from going because either of them could get there quicker,” he said.
The FBEU has used NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant’s visit to Dapto fire station this week, where he handed over a new fire truck, to raise its concerns.
“The Emergency Services Minister is swanning around for photo ops with fire trucks, he’s not telling anyone that he’s also ripping $20 million out of the fire service as well,” Mr Sullivan said.
A spokesman for Mr Grant said FRNSW received the “largest budget in its history” – $693.2 million – in 2016/17, up $13.4 million on the previous year.
He refuted suggestion community safety would be compromised under the planned changes.
“The proposed risk-based response protocols are designed to ensure the quickest and most appropriate firefighting resources are deployed to incidents, whilst reducing over-responses,” the spokesman said.
“Response times will improve as FRNSW’s technology will ensure crews who can get to the incident the quickest will be dispatched.”
As part of its automatic fire alarm (AFA) response review, FRNSW plan to send one truck instead of two to “low-risk” premises.
Two trucks would go to higher-risk premises like nursing homes, schools and hospitals.
FRNSW said 97 per cent of all AFAs were false alarms and, therefore, a one-truck response was more than adequate in the majority of cases.