Fire Brigade Employees' Union fights plan to take 30 stations, including Paxton, temporarily offline

'GAMBLE': Cessnock MP Clayton Barr outside Paxton Fire Station, which could be temporarily taken off-line in the event of a staffing shortage under a plan by Fire and Rescue NSW. Picture: Krystal Sellars
'GAMBLE': Cessnock MP Clayton Barr outside Paxton Fire Station, which could be temporarily taken off-line in the event of a staffing shortage under a plan by Fire and Rescue NSW. Picture: Krystal Sellars

A proposal to take 30 Fire and Rescue NSW stations - including Paxton - temporarily offline when there are staff shortages is being fought by the Fire Brigade Employees' Union.

The union argues that taking stations offline has "major risks for firefighter and community safety", however Fire and Rescue NSW says it isn't reducing service delivery; it's continuing a practice that has been in place for more than a decade.

Trucks at 34 stations around the state (including Bellbird, Kearsley and one but not both of Abermain or Kurri Kurri) can be taken offline if a minimum crew of four cannot be provided under an order that was introduced in 2008.

The union is fighting the proposal to add a further 30 stations to this list in the Industrial Relations Commission, saying it "deprives a local community of a critical emergency response, leaving any response up to fire stations from further away and reducing the number of fire trucks at any incident".

But Fire and Rescue NSW's Acting Deputy Commissioner Field Operations, Rob McNeil, says service delivery will not be reduced.

"We are not closing fire stations," he said.

"The practice of temporarily taking fire trucks off-line at some on-call stations has been in place for more than a decade and it was introduced with union support.

"FRNSW fire trucks are part of a mobile network of resources which don't stay permanently parked at stations.

"All trucks have Automatic Vehicle Location to enable the closest and most appropriate truck to respond.

"Trucks will only be temporarily taken offline if it is safe to do so and there are other trucks in the network which could quickly respond to an incident."

Fire Brigade Employees' Union state secretary Leighton Drury disputed the claim that the union supported the introduction of the practice.

"The FBEU did not in 2008, and does not now, agree with any fire stations being taken off-line," he said.

"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.

"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 to show up.

"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."

Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said the plan was a "terribly dangerous gamble" for the NSW Government to take, particularly as Paxton is the only Fire and Rescue station in Cessnock's rural west.

"They are gambling with people's lives and property. The government know, for sure and certain, that a decision like this will increase the risk to the communities that will not be protected in the normal way, with normal coverage, by letting some of these fire stations sit in a shut-down mode," Mr Barr said.

"What would happen if the Pinch was closed, and the nearest truck had to go all the way through Quorrobolong?

"These villages - Paxton, Ellalong and Millfield - are growing and growing.

"I hope that no tragedy comes from this decision.

"Why can the government find billions and billions of dollars to build a road or bridge or tunnel in Sydney, but they can't find a few thousand dollars for the people of Paxton?"

The matter has been part-heard in the Industrial Relations Commission, and will have a final day of hearing on December 17.

Mr Drury urged the community to support their local fire station.

"We encourage people to write to their local State Member of Parliament, write to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, write to the Commissioner of Fire & Rescue NSW, and make your voices heard," he said.

"And most importantly, we need the community to support our local firefighters, who are of course at the centre of this proposal.

"They are doing their best to maintain this vital service, and their employer wants to throw them aside and allow their local community to be exposed.

"We encourage people to apply for positions at their local Fire and Rescue NSW stations if they're recruiting, and be sure to thank your local firies for their exceptional work in the community."