Staffing shortage prompts fire alert

Blue Mountains councillor Don McGregor, Labor candidate for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle and mayor Mark Greenhill share firefighters concerns about the safety of the community when the Katoomba FRNSW station isn't manned by a permanent crew due to staffing shortages at Mt Victoria station.

Blue Mountains councillor Don McGregor, Labor candidate for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle and mayor Mark Greenhill share firefighters concerns about the safety of the community when the Katoomba FRNSW station isn't manned by a permanent crew due to staffing shortages at Mt Victoria station.

Firefighters will issue public warnings on days when the permanent Katoomba crew is unavailable for rescue operations due to the crew being sent to Mt Victoria to cover staffing shortages.

When the permanent crew is at Mt Victoria, rescue services are provided by the police and part-time retained or on-call firefighters, who need to travel to Katoomba fire station from their home or place of work before being able to respond to incidents, potentially delaying the emergency response.

Fire and Rescue NSW senior firefighter Jim Milroy, based in Katoomba, said the Katoomba station's permanent crew had been sent to Mt Victoria about three times the past month, and with this same frequency over the past year.

Just last week the crew were sent to Mt Victoria for five hours and again on Monday for four-and-a-half hours.

"People of the Blue Mountains aren't getting the fire service that their rates are paying for," he said.

Fire Brigade Employees Union country sub-branch secretary Tim Anderson urged Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage to take the issue up with her colleagues in government, saying firefighters were worried by the risks posed to the community.

"Despite direct representations from the union, as well as correspondence from Blue Mountains City Council, neither Mrs Sage nor her colleagues in the NSW government have been willing to act.

"FRNSW management need to fix the problem permanently by recruiting additional firefighters for Mt Victoria so that there are adequate numbers to respond to incidents at all times without robbing nearby towns of fire or rescue services."

The union said when the FRNSW rescue appliance from Katoomba was in Mt Victoria this placed additional pressure on the Blue Mountains Police Rescue unit.

Lindsay West, FRNSW zone commander metro west 3 which covers the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Lithgow, said the community needn't be concerned as coverage was still being maintained.

He said all stations were still open and operational and the permanent Katoomba crew had been called to Mt Victoria nine times since January, usually for about four hours at a time and there had been only one incident logged at Katoomba on one of these occasions.

Mr West said when a permanent crew was called out on a job the retained or on-call crew were also notified, so the station was not unmanned.

He said Fire and Rescue NSW was continually trying to fill staffing shortages at Mt Victoria and that another two on-call firefighters would be starting there in the next couple of months. He said anyone interested in becoming a part-time firefighter should contact the Mt Victoria station or zone office.

While Mr West admitted the response time from an on-call team was delayed from Katoomba if the permanent crew was attending a job in Mt Victoria, he said the crews were still meeting the legislative requirements in terms of response times.

"We are meeting the criteria and doing in my view our best for the community in terms of Mt Victoria fire coverage and Katoomba coverage," he said.

Earlier this year, Blue Mountains City Council also wrote to then Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher to raise concerns about staffing issues.

Last week mayor Mark Greenhill said, "These workers deserve a rostering system that supports them in their tough jobs. My support for the stand taken by the union is about protecting the people of the Blue Mountains as well as supporting our wonderful emergency services workers."

The matter will be discussed at the next council meeting on July 22.

Labor candidate for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle said, "The issue is a concern to community safety and the degree of expectation that services will be available".

"Roza Sage needs to take the concerns of the members of the fire brigades to the minister."

In the Lower Mountains fire and emergency protection has been boosted, with Springwood Fire Station being staffed by permanent firefighters from December last year.

The public can sign up to receive the public alerts via email by sending an email to BMfireservicecuts@gmail.com.

Roza Sage declined to comment.

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