Cessnock City Council to investigate possibility of converting Weston Fire Station into Rural Fire Service station

COMMUNITY FACILITY: Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent and Cr Anne Sander with concerned residents at Weston Fire Station in October last year, when the council voted to ask the NSW Government to keep the station open.
COMMUNITY FACILITY: Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent and Cr Anne Sander with concerned residents at Weston Fire Station in October last year, when the council voted to ask the NSW Government to keep the station open.

Cessnock City Council will investigate the possibility of converting the vacant Weston Fire Station into a Rural Fire Service station.

The Fire and Rescue NSW station was recently closed due to low numbers of retained firefighters, ageing facilities and its close proximity to the Abermain and Kurri Kurri brigades.

Council voted in October to continue advocating to keep the station open and in community hands, writing to the NSW Government for support.

The Weston station has now closed for good, with all members transferred to other brigades in the area command, and an extra appliance has been added to the Abermain brigade.

In a letter to Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, emergency services minister David Elliott said the merger of Weston with the Abermain brigade was part of Fire and Rescue NSW's original plans for the construction for the new station at Abermain in 2017.

"FRNSW has continued to monitor response times in the area, which demonstrated that firefighters from the Abermain station were able to respond to incidents faster than the Weston crews," Mr Elliott said.

"I am advised that a lot of work has gone into attracting new on-call firefighters at Weston, but the recruitment campaigns have ultimately been unsuccessful due to an insufficient pool of potential firefighters to staff Weston, Kurri Kurri and Abermain fire stations within such a small geographic area.

"This placed added stress on existing members to maximise their attendance and availability to compensate for the low numbers."

Council will now investigate if the site is suitable for an RFS station, and if so, will then look into have the land transferred for the purposes of establishing an RFS station, and the related costs and funding sources (internal and external). The responsibility of the land transfer lies with Property NSW.

Ward C councillor and lifelong Weston resident Anne Sander, who moved the notice of motion at council's February 19 meeting, said it seems "beyond belief" that FRNSW would close the Weston station following this summer's destructive bushfire season.

Cr Sander said bushfire safety was the community's main concern about the fire station's closure.

"We've tried everything under the sun to retain this as a fire service... this (an RFS) would be another way to ensure the safety of the community," she said.

"Most of the towns in our LGA have a fire service - either Fire and Rescue or RFS.

"Weston is a growing town, with lots of bushland.

"How are other areas going to cover it if we don't fill the gap with an RFS?"

At the same meeting, a petition was tabled supporting Millfield Rural Fire Brigade's search for land for a new shed.

The petition - signed by more than 1000 people - asked council to prioritise and allocate a suitable portion of land for a permanent location for the Millfield brigade, which currently calls a disused chicken shed home.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story said council would look to acquire the site from Property NSW. Property NSW does not own this site. The responsibility with the land transfer lies with Property NSW.

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