The Fire Brigade Employees' Union is fighting a proposal in the Industrial Relations Commission this week to temporarily shut down a number of Blue Mountains fire stations when there are staff shortages.
The Union said Fire and Rescue NSW had "been trying for some time to implement an order which would allow Blackheath, Glenbrook, Lawson, Mt Victoria and Wentworth Falls Fire and Rescue Stations to be temporarily taken off-line in the event of a staffing shortage".
Fire Brigade Employees' Union(FBEU) state secretary Martin Dixon said taking any station offline deprived a community of a critical emergency response, leaving any response up to stations further afield and reducing the number of trucks at any incident. These Mountains sites are on "a list" from ones around the state, because FRNSW believes an adjoining station can sufficiently cover the area, he said.
"If Fire and Rescue really wanted to keep communities safe, they would scrap this plan. It doesn't pass the pub test and it will leave communities worse off.
"This has major risks for firefighter and community safety ... the FBEU is fighting hard to stop this proposal through every way possible, including through the courts, but we need the help of local communities."
Mr Dixon said with the NSW population growing by more than 100,000 annually; more people meant more houses and more vehicles and the government needed to increase services instead of shutting stations to save money.
"Fire stations without safe crewing levels are supplemented by other firefighters at overtime rates, which is necessary to keep our communities safe. Staffing shortages can be avoided by fixing critical understaffing and underfunding."
Staffing shortages can be avoided by fixing the critical understaffing and underfunding of the service.Fire Brigade Employees' Union state secretary Martin Dixon
He has encouraged Mountains residents to write to their local member, as well as the Emergency Services Minister and the Fire Commissioner.
"This government wants to shut down your local fire station, depriving the community of a critical emergency response if anything goes wrong," he said.
Member for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle wrote to Minister David Elliot this week to express her "deep concerns".
"The risk profile is alarming ... particularly adjoining stations should not be taken offline. That is a dangerous way to save money and I find this cost cutting measure abhorrent and completely at odds with the core business of Fire and Rescue NSW."
In response to questions from the Gazette, Fire and Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner, Jeremy Fewtrell said they were "committed to keeping communities safe".
Commissioner Fewtrell said FRNSW "uses a risk-based approach to manage the readiness of its emergency service delivery" and has an "established procedure of managing all of its on-call fire stations".
"The practice of taking fire trucks temporarily off-line is partly a result of changing demographics, improvements in technology, and a more modern understanding of fire safety and risks.
"Under FRNSW's risk-based approach, formalised in conjunction with the FBEU in 2008, a truck is only temporarily taken offline when there are more than sufficient resources in the area to respond to emergencies. These decisions are based on data, including ongoing incident response coverage of the area by other nearby appliances," he said.
"Each fire truck and its crew is a mobile resource available to respond wherever it is needed. FRNSW's network of coverage is managed centrally ... and able to provide rapid emergency response based on the fastest available resource, independent of a fixed fire station location."
However, the union has disputed claims they agreed to stations being taken off-line.
"The FBEU did not in 2008, and does not now, agree with any fire stations being taken off-line. Fire and Rescue can talk all they want about risk management and demographics, but the reality is, unless a fire truck has staff to get on it, if a fire starts, that fire truck will not be going," Mr Dixon said.
"This is an inescapable fact that upper management and the government just don't get. Local communities deserve to have their local fire truck show up as quickly as possible. They shouldn't have to wait for the next closest truck.
"They can talk about risk management all they like but who can predict when a incident will occur? Our response is time critical. Minutes matter and can be the difference between a small manageable fire or the loss of an entire property. Or worst case scenario the difference between life and death."
This matter has been part-heard and is back in the Industrial Relations Commission on Monday September 20 for a three-day hearing.