Mid North Coast Fire and Rescue NSW employees support Fire Brigade Employees Union concerns over offline equipment plan

The last few years have seen our emergency services more than show their worth to the community, first in the fires, floods, and even during COVID. Photo: File
The last few years have seen our emergency services more than show their worth to the community, first in the fires, floods, and even during COVID. Photo: File

THE Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) is sounding alarm bells over a proposal by Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) that would see vital equipment taken offline in over 30 locations, including some on the Mid North Coast.

Fire and Rescue NSW officers from local stations in Dorrigo, Nambucca Heads, Bowraville, Kempsey, Macksville, South West Rocks, Urunga, Port Macquarie, Taree, Gloucester, Laurieton, Wingham, Woolgoolga and several other locations along the coast have signed an open letter protesting the action as well.

The 'TOLing' would only be temporary, but FBEU union delegate and Mid North Coast resident Daniel Finney says it could impact community safety in the region.

"Under this new ordinance, they can take equipment offline for an hour, a day a week a month, it gives them the power to take it offline at the drop of a hat, and it could be done indefinitely," he said.

"The introduction of this In-Order will allow for four trucks to be TOL'd in the Coffs region, leaving just two trucks available to respond to all emergencies within the Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour and Sawtell fire districts; how is that safe?

"We live in one of the highest growth areas on the Mid North Coast, we need all our equipment working, and online, this move could end up costing lives and property, it doesn't make sense."

Mr Finney believes the crux of the issue is money.

Currently, fire stations without sufficient safe crewing levels are supplemented by other firefighters at overtime rates. Without the extra crew to operate the equipment, the new ordinance proposes taking them offline instead.

We cannot see a more significant risk to the health and safety of professional firefighters than this.

Mid North Coast Fire and Rescue members

Acting Deputy Commissioner Field Operations, Rob McNeil says that TOLing is widespread and has been implemented for many years.

The Acting Deputy Commissioner maintains the practice is partly a result of changing demographics, improvements in technology, and a more modern understanding of fire safety and risks.

"Fire and Rescue NSW is not reducing service delivery to the community of NSW. 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 (AVL) to enable to 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."

However, in the open letter signed by Fire and Rescue officers, they argue that the decision is being made based on what works in major cities, rather than in the regions where it's a distinctly different environment.

"There is a distinct variation between metropolitan and regional areas in the available FRNSW resources ready to respond to emergencies," part of the letter says.

"TOLing additional FRNSW resources in regional areas will definitely put our communities at further risk and further jeopardise the safety of all FRNSW firefighters.

"Part of the proposal is to allow just two firefighters to respond to an incident in an urban pump.

"We cannot see a more significant risk to the health and safety of professional firefighters than this.

Fire and Rescue need all our equipment online and operating to ensure we can respond to emergencies whenever, and wherever they occur.

Daniel Finney

"We are united in our opposition to this proposal and request this proposed new In-Order is withdrawn from implementation."

The last few years have seen our emergency services more than show their worth to the community, first in the fires, floods, and even during COVID.

Mr Finney says if anybody in the community wants to help them fight the new order, now is the time for people to make their voices heard.

"People have power in numbers, write to your member of parliament, contact the NSW government; we can't let them do this," he said.

"All year round, Fire and Rescue are busy, we protect 90 per cent of the state's population from emergencies involving fire, motor vehicle accidents and other dangerous situations.

"We protect 100 per cent of the state's population from hazardous materials emergencies and building collapse.

"Nobody knows when and where an emergency will happen; data modelling isn't an accurate way to predict accidents in advance.

"Fire and Rescue need all our equipment online and operating to ensure we can respond to emergencies whenever, and wherever they occur."