Hopes of keeping triple-0 call centre operators in the Blue Mountains will be dashed next month when Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) closes its Katoomba communication centre.
Two of the state’s four fire communication hubs will close soon after FRNSW switches to its upgraded call and dispatch system on May 31, a move it says will improve response times in an emergency.
Negotiations between FRNSW management, the union and Katoomba call operators are ongoing with some workers set to move to the Sydney centre while others returning to active firefighting positions will eventually be posted to Springwood Fire Station when it begins 24-hour operations, scheduled for mid-2013.
Katoomba call centre worker and Fire Brigade Employees Union delegate Mark Lutherborrow said the union had secured a “decent result” for the workers, whose careers had been left in limbo by the decision last year.
Those workers who have not chosen to relocate to the Sydney communication centre and who are physically unable to return to active firefighting will be offered light-duties positions in the Blue Mountains.
Mr Lutherborrow said the upgrade of Springwood Fire Station to a permanently-manned site — agreed to as a trade-off for closing the call centre — would benefit the community but he remained convinced emergency response times would suffer.
“So it is actually a win for the people of the Blue Mountains in regards to immediate fire service delivery by having another fire engine ready to go at Springwood, and the downside to it, of course, is the knowledge and expertise that was held in the communication centre that was really relied on in times of bushfires . . . in the Mountains and also further west, will now no longer exist,” he said.
“Response times under the new system, they will be longer . . . I still do have those concerns and hopefully I’ll be proven wrong in the next fire season that we have in the Blue Mountains.”
A FRNSW spokeswoman said the Katoomba centre would remain open “at least” for the first week of June until the new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was established. She said it would enhance response capabilities by providing more operators than currently available.
“This will reduce the time it takes to answer emergency calls and dispatch fire crews from both Fire and Rescue and the Rural Fire Service, ultimately leading to greater public safety,” said the spokeswoman.