Cuts will threaten fire stations: union

The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union has raised concerns over the future of the Illawarra’s five permanent firefighting stations, saying they are likely to face temporary closures as the state government’s budget cuts ‘‘take hold’’ in the coming years.

Last week, the union slammed the government for its policy of temporarily closing certain Sydney fire stations when officers were sick or injured, instead of calling in staff and paying them overtime.

The state government has been quick to deny union comments, and on Friday said any suggestion station closures or downgrades were on the cards for the Illawarra was ‘‘completely incorrect’’.

‘‘In fact, we are opening a new fire station at Albion Park mid-2014, which will replace the retained fire station at Albion Park Rail and will be staffed 24/7 by full-time firefighters,’’ Fire and Rescue NSW acting assistant commissioner director metropolitan operations, Marcus Baker, said.

He said the practice of taking certain stations offline temporarily due to staffing shortages had been in place since 2008 ‘‘without compromising operational service delivery’’.

However, Fire Brigade Employees’ Union president Darin Sullivan said the cuts would ‘‘bite’’ the Illawarra eventually.

‘‘All five [stations] are basically under threat from O’Farrell government budget cuts,’’ he said.

‘‘We know the commissioner needs to save a lot more money over the coming years so it will bite.’’

The union has said due to the policy of temporarily closing stations, the top 10 most affected Sydney stations had been closed more than 20 times each so far this year.

 Mr Sullivan also said a bushfire tanker attached to Wollongong station was regularly taken offline due to budget cuts.

‘‘Any fire truck that’s not staffed in a professional fire service should be of concern,’’ he said.

‘‘The big difference here is none of these appliances were being closed under the Labor government, only since the  Liberal government came in...we started to see this rot.’’

But Mr Baker said the bushfire tanker was ‘‘on top of the station’s normal complement of three fully crewed fire trucks’’.

‘‘It was placed at Wollongong simply to provide positions for firefighters from the former Wollongong Communications Centre – not due to risk or need, so the claims by union that it is offline due to budget cuts are completely disingenuous,’’ he said.  

‘‘On total fire ban days or if there is a major bushfire emergency, the tanker will always be online, as it was during the recent bushfire emergencies in the Southern Highlands and Illawarra areas.

  ‘‘Given the geography, risks and location of permanently staffed FRNSW stations within the Illawarra region, it is a priority to keep these fire stations online.’’