Shortages of on-call firefighters in Mt Victoria have forced Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) to temporarily take the station off-line and to move a specialist truck from Katoomba there to cover potential emergencies.
Tim Anderson, country sub-branch secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, said taking the station off-line was “a matter of great concern”.
And Blue Mountains City Council at its meeting last week voted to write to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services calling on him to direct FRNSW to cease the practice, saying it believed it had seriously compromised the ability of personnel to respond effectively and safely to emergencies.
Mr Anderson said the specialist rescue truck – the only permanently staffed fire truck in the Upper Mountains – had been redeployed to Mt Victoria four times since November.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said.
“It means there is one less fire engine in the Blue Mountains to respond. You are actually reducing the level of fire protection in the Mountains.”
Mt Victoria is a retained station, where on-call firefighters working in their regular jobs are called in only when there is a fire, road accident or other emergency. Fire trucks need a minimum crew of four to operate safely.
Mr Anderson said the union believed the problem lay with budget restrictions.
“This is not an attack on our management. Management don’t have the resources to keep these stations on-line,” he said.
“I don’t believe any of our management would choose to close a fire station. They are being forced to do this because there is not enough money.
“During the past 12 months, temporary closures of permanent fire stations across the greater Sydney region have become a growing issue. Initially implemented to save money when a firefighter was sick or injured, it has been expanded, with stations being shut because of planned annual leave or, in this case, shortages at a nearby retained fire station.
“The union would like to see all fire stations remain open with a safe level of effective staff,” Mr Anderson said.
Fire and Rescue NSW’s acting deputy commissioner, Jim Hamilton, suggested it was more a case of limited personnel, not money. He confirmed there were not sufficient on-call firefighters at Mt Victoria which had meant the Katoomba engine had been deployed there four times in recent months.
“Three people have recently been interviewed for positions at Mt Victoria and FRNSW would welcome applications from members of the community — particularly those available to respond to emergencies during the day — who are interested in becoming a retained firefighter,” he said.
Mr Hamilton stressed that “at no time was the safety of firefighters or the community compromised”.
He also pointed out that Fire and Rescue has actually boosted fire and emergency protection in the Mountains, with Springwood Fire Station now staffed with permanent firefighters.