Esber: Rydalmere fire risk from closures

Lives and properties are at risk because local fire stations are not being manned 24/7, warned Parramatta Labor councillor Pierre Esber.

The fire birgades union claims Rydalmere fire station has been closed on about 110 occasions since November 2012 due to state government budget cuts to Fire & Rescue NSW. Picture: supplied.

The fire birgades union claims Rydalmere fire station has been closed on about 110 occasions since November 2012 due to state government budget cuts to Fire & Rescue NSW. Picture: supplied.

Cr Esber, who will raise his concerns at the August 11 council meeting after he was contacted by a local firefighter, blamed 2012 state government budget cuts for fire stations being taken temporarily offline (TOLed) at Rydalmere and Guildford.

When fire stations are TOLed, its fire fighters are sent to other Sydney fire stations to fill staffing shortages in other regions and fire protection is instead provided by surrounding stations.

‘‘Lives are definitely being put at risk,’’ Cr Esber said. ‘‘I think there is an expectation among residents that their local stations are manned all the time.’’

As Commissioner Greg Mullins would tell you, minutes saved mean lives. - Leighton Drury, Sydney firefighter and a western Sydney representative for the Fire Birgade's Employees Union.

Leighton Drury, a Fire Brigade’s Employees Union representative for western Sydney and a former Parramatta firefighter of 14 years, said Rydalmere had been taken offline about 110 times since November 2012 and Guildford about 30 times.

‘‘It’s playing Russian roulette with the people of Rydalmere,’’ Mr Drury said. ‘‘If you shut [Rydalmere], they’re saying they can still cover it from fire stations like Parramatta and Eastwood. The problem is they’ve got to travel from Eastwood or Parramatta.

‘‘As Commissioner Greg Mullins would tell you, minutes saved mean lives.’’

Mr Drury said TOLing was put in place by Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) in 2012 in response to state government public sector budget cuts, which impacted the FRNSW wages budget.

Video emailed to the Sun as background information by fire brigade union rep for Parramatta, Leighton Drury.

‘‘If a firefighter rings in sick... instead of calling in a reliver on overtime, the station is now taken offline.’’

But Parramatta Liberal MP Geoff Lee said TOLing was not a new phenomenon and occurred for a number of reasons, including staff training, and also took place under the former Labor state government.

‘‘Rest assured, every time they redeploy and put a station offline, it doesn’t put the public at risk,’’ Dr Lee said. ‘‘They always cover the area.’’

A Fire & Rescue NSW spokeswoman said moving permanent firefighters and trucks around Sydney is a standard practice that is governed by proven risk management principles.

"Fire & Rescue NSW would never put firefighters or the community at risk. Fire stations are only taken offline where their areas can be covered by crews from an adjoining area within Fire & Rescue NSW response time standards or, alternatively, another fire truck and crew will “stand by” to cover the local area," the spokeswoman said.

"On the small number of occasions that Rydalmere fire station has been offline, there have been fire trucks ready to respond from Parramatta, Eastwood, Ryde, Silverwater, Rhodes, Lidcombe and Merrylands. In the past 12 months, Rydalmere has offline due to staff shortages on 21 occasions and has been sent to other stations 41 times."

Parramatta lord mayor John Chedid said: “Our community needs to have peace of mind that all are our emergency services are properly equipped and resourced to respond to potentially life-threatening incidents.

“I intend to write to the Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW to seek assurances that this practice is not putting lives and property at risk.”

NSW Police and Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres told the Sun that the Fire Commissioner "allocates resources to best protect the community" from the risk of fire.

"The current allocation of fire resources in the Parramatta area ensures firefighters are able to respond within our target response times," he said.

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