Illawarra fire stations could be downgraded or even closed, to help slash millions of dollars from the Fire and Rescue NSW budget, a union leader claims.
Fire Brigade Employees Union president Darin Sullivan said a bushfire tanker based at Wollongong Fire Station had already been taken offline most days as a money-saving measure. And he feared that temporary - and even permanent - station closures could follow.
"We think it will get much worse next year - we don't think the Commissioner [Greg Mullins] can actually achieve the target that he's been given," he said.
"I'd say that he'll have to look at getting rid of firefighters somewhere or at getting rid of fire stations somewhere."
Last year FRNSW began temporarily closing Sydney stations left short-staffed due to sick, annual or other leave, and redeploying the remaining firefighters to other nearby stations.
The ongoing closures were designed to save money in overtime as part of a government plan to reduce costs by 1.2 per cent a year over the next four years.
Mr Sullivan said the Illawarra could soon follow Sydney. He feared that stations such as Dapto and Warrawong could be in line for temporary closure, and Dapto and Shellharbour could be downgraded to part-time staffing.
"And that basically means a delayed response, so it's a risk to the community," he said.
But Mr Sullivan said he feared that any temporary closures could eventually become permanent.
"The budget cuts are deep enough to threaten staff levels."
However, a FRNSW spokeswoman refuted any suggestion of station closures or downgrades in the Illawarra.
Some retained fire stations in areas that could be covered by other nearby stations were sometimes taken offline temporarily due to staffing shortages - a regular practice since 2008, she said.
However, it was a priority to keep the region's permanently staffed fire stations online given their "geography, risks and location".
She said the bushfire tanker, with a crew of two, had been placed at Wollongong fire station temporarily and was an additional resource.
"On occasion, these extra firefighters may be temporarily reassigned to fill shift vacancies at permanently staffed stations to keep more essential fire trucks online."
The tanker was not taken offline during total fire bans, she said.
Mr Sullivan said the tanker was a multi-purpose response vehicle and should always remain online.
"You never know when a fire emergency is going to happen," he said.
"We're just concerned that not having trucks on the road is a risk."