$70m cut to fire budget
‘risk to the community’
CUTTING $70 million from the Fire and Rescue New South Wales budget will cause fire stations to close and put communities at great risk, a union says.
The O’Farrell government’s earmarking of $70 million for a NSW budget cut has brought warnings about the temporary closure of stations across the state.
Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) NSW president, Darin Sullivan, says there won’t be enough staff to man them.
“Closing stations instead of staffing them is a bad idea and dangerous for the community,” Mr Sullivan has told Sydney media.
The drop in funding will mean stations will be forced to close if a fire-fighter is not able to work their shift.
Previously a replacement could be called in, but under the cuts this will not be possible, Mr Sullivan says.
Mr Sullivan says he is also worried this will put pressure on fire-fighters to come into work when they were under the weather, putting them at risk.
“(This will) force fire-fighters to come to work sick,” he says.
“You can’t put a face mask on with an air cylinder with a head cold, you just can’t do it, you can’t breathe.”
The FBEU is taking the case to the industrial relations court today (Monday).
Mr Sullivan says he is not optimistic the court will overturn the decision and is prepared to fight the cuts with industrial action.
“It’s a roll of the dice (Monday) in the commission and failing that we will continue to run our case in the public,” he says.
“We’ll consider ongoing industrial action if need be, if either ourselves or the community are at risk.”
A spokeswoman for Emergency Services Minister, Michael Gallacher, says the government was elected with a mandate to reduce waste and cost blowouts which requires making some tough decisions.
“Almost all government agencies have been asked to reduce their employee-related expenses by 1.2 per cent this year,” he says in a statement.
“Fire-fighters’ rates of sick leave and other unplanned leave has resulted in the overtime bill reaching $24 million last year – $7 million over budget.
"Like other heads of departments, Commissioner (Greg) Mullins has been given the flexibility to decide how the savings will be achieved.”
Opposition emergency services spokesman, Nathan Rees, says the government should be opening fire stations, not ripping millions from the fire brigade’s budget – a move that will compromise community safety.
“It’s a simple equation – longer response times mean more burnt-out buildings and more risk to life,” Mr Rees says in a statement.
“In a state like NSW with its unforgiving climate, there is no excuse for closing stations and cutting fire-fighters under any circumstances.”