NSW Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres has slammed Labor's candidate for Blue Mountains, accusing her of creating fear in the community over fire station staffing levels in the Upper Mountains.
Mr Ayres attacked comments by Labor's Trish Doyle backing a union campaign about Fire and Rescue NSW [FRNSW] staffing shortages at Mt Victoria in last week's Gazette. Ms Doyle said the situation was a "concern to community safety" on occasions when permanent Katoomba firefighters are sent to Mt Victoria to cover the shortages.
But Mr Ayres said the Labor Party was exploiting a lack of understanding in the community between permanent firefighters and retained (on-call, part-time) firefighters.
"I was really disappointed about what I thought was nothing more than a blatant exploitation of people's lack of understanding around how fire services operate by the Labor candidate," he told the Gazette last week.
"I'm not opposed to us having a cut and thrust political discussion but just being blatantly deceptive and misleading is just unacceptable. To come out and say that Katoomba doesn't have firefighters is just false. To indicate we're putting people's lives at risk by the way we're deploying our firefighting resources is also false."
Mr Ayres accused the local Labor Party of "scaremongering for nothing more than political gain and I think we've got to call this out".
But Ms Doyle rejected accusations she was politicising the issue.
"Minister Ayres claims we are politicising the issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fire service funding should be beyond politics. Fund FRNSW properly, and let the firefighters do their job," she said.
Ms Doyle said in the last financial year the State Government "stripped $14million out of the [Fire and Rescue NSW] wages budget, and that is projected to increase to $18 million in the 2014/15 financial year".
"This has meant station closures in Sydney, job losses in some regional areas, and for the Blue Mountains it has meant the movement of rescue appliances from the area they are meant to cover to other stations where staff are running short," she said.
Ms Doyle said the minister should talk to firies on the ground about the potential of local staffing shortages to affect response times.
"If a structure fire, for example, was to occur at Katoomba in a boarding house or hotel then the outcome would be negative if a rapid response and weight of attack could not be provided because the permanent truck was standing by at Mt Victoria. We need to highlight the madness of this practice. Firefighters, be they permanent or retained, need immediate access to their equipment."