Firefighter response times could be severely affected in the New England region due to the O’Farrell Government’s $64 million budget cuts to Fire and Rescue NSW.
The savings will occur over four years with the exact nature of the reductions to be decided by Fire and Rescue NSW, not State Parliament.
To reduce costs, Fire and Rescue NSW has proposed measures Fire Brigade Employee Union representative (FBEU), Tim Anderson said could increase emergency crew response times.
In rural areas, such as New England and Armidale, more part-time and retained firefighters would be used to crack down on overtime payments for permanent staff.
However, Mr Anderson said that would mean permanent firefighters would have to wait for a part-time firefighter to arrive at the station before they could safely attend an emergency.
He said this would effectively reduce minimum crew requirements, which are meant to ensure firefighter and community safety.
“Obviously when we take longer to respond, the smaller fires become bigger, the people who are trapped in cars are trapped longer and that has implications for the safety of the community,” he said.
“I can’t imagine firefighters waiting at the fire station for that retained firefighter to arrive. I believe it is an attack on minimal manning.”
Tamworth-based Fire and Rescue Service Duty Commander Brad Harrison said to maintain front line services in New England, secondary services such as public education campaigns and community services would probably go.
“I’ve got concerns about the budget cuts and its impacts. I know the department is doing everything it can to keep fire coverage for the next financial year,” he said.
FBEU State president Darin Sullivan said even equipment spending could eventually suffer.
“That’s certainly a concern I’ve got and I think we’ll see [drops in equipment spending] in years two or three of these cuts,” he said.
The FBEU has taken Fire and Rescue NSW to the Industrial Relations Commission over the proposed changes, however, Mr Anderson stressed he did not blame the department for the cuts.
“It’s the government that has reduced the resources to Fire and Rescue NSW. This is more about the ideology of a conservative government to smash the public service,” he said.
The FBEU said it was willing to compromise on award conditions if it would preserve community safety.
Fire and Rescue NSW and the FBEU will meet with the IRC on Thursday, August 23.