Winmalee Rural Fire Brigade is suffering “under use syndrome” in a system that could impact on the safety of local residents, according to its captain.
Under a Mutual Aid Agreement (MAA) between the NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW, Winmalee Rural Fire Brigade should be responded at the same time as Springwood Fire Brigade if an incident occurs at Winmalee so emergencies can be dealt with as quickly as possible.
But at a meeting attended by about 70 people at Winmalee Rural Fire Brigade station last week, captain Anthony Black said there had been repeated instances where his brigade had not been called out, or had only been called after a significant delay.
While the two brigades worked closely and professionally with each other, the problem lay partly in the fact that an operator could page the Springwood Fire and Rescue NSW brigade but then had to make a telephone call to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) to respond, he said.
The new CAD, or communications, system had been in place for four weeks and the RFS brigade had not been contacted to attend any incidents during that time, bar one when it was called on by the captain of another brigade, Mr Black said.
Because Winmalee was geographically isolated, its brigade members feared lives could be put at risk due to the fact it could take up to 10 minutes for Springwood firefighters to arrive at an incident.
“In my view that situation is entirely unsatisfactory, it’s primitive, it’s dysfunctional . . . it in my view is not appropriate now and should be changed,” Mr Black told the meeting.
“There must be a system whereby the CAD system that receives triple zero calls can activate members of the Rural Fire Service . . . to be responded at the same time as 445 [Springwood Fire Brigade], even if that was as crude as having our phone numbers amenable to the same button as 445.
“We are not asking for the wheel to be re-invented . . . we are asking for both services to be contemporarily responded.
“We just require the right people to have the will to do it.”
The brigade has two category one tankers and one pumper, all of which are equipped with breathing apparatus that could be used during emergencies requiring the fastest response, such as house fires.
The brigade also had about 140 people it could call on for either one incident or an extended campaign, and the fact many were required to update their qualifications every year yet weren’t being called to incidents was leading some to question why they should bother, Mr Black said.
New Blue Mountains RFS acting district fire manager Superintendent David Jones told the meeting “processes and protocols” were being put in place to help fix the situation, while RFS state operations manager Peter McKechnie said any despatch system used in the area also needed to be considered in a way that provided consistency across the state.
Mr McKechnie also rejected suggestions SMS be used in the process due to its unreliability.
During questions from the floor it was revealed the problem was one faced by many brigades, not just Winmalee, and that local residents also wanted a solution found.
“All we want is to make sure the unit that’s going to get there the quickest can get there,” one resident said.