TWO shiny engines stand ready for action at the Kelso fire station but they are seeing less and less active duty, it has been revealed.
The Kelso fire station is regularly being taken “offline” by management due to a lack of staff, the firefighters’ union says.
While there were two fire trucks locked away at Kelso yesterday, they are effectively out of operation from Monday to Friday.
Whenever there are insufficient retained firefighters available, the Kelso brigade goes “offline”, which means the brigade is not permitted to attend a fire.
A team of four firefighters is considered the safe minimum to respond to a call and when numbers available fall below this level the station closes.
Fire Brigade Employees Union country representative Tim Anderson said this was a concern considering the rate at which Kelso was growing.
Mr Anderson said while the temporary closure of fire stations in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong has been getting quite a bit of press lately, the same practice has been going on in regional NSW since 2008.
“Over the past five years the fire station and engine at Kelso are offline for a period of time each week,” Mr Anderson said.
“If there is a large incident that’s one less fire engine responding.”
But zone commander Acting Superintendent Murray West said the establishment of the 24- hour fire station in Bathurst gives enough coverage to temporarily take Kelso offline when there is a lack of retained firefighters available.
He said retained firefighters are finding it difficult to be released from their primary employment, however, two new retained firefighters have been recruited which should help address the problem.
At the same time, Mr Anderson stressed the issue was in no way the fault of the firefighters at Kelso. “If management can’t fix the problem in five years then it is time to bring in someone with new ideas,” he said.
“Allowing the station to go offline is an admission of defeat.”
Acting Supt West said standard staffing for retained fire stations with one truck, such as Kelso, is 12 firefighters.
“Kelso has an authorised strength of 16 to assist with availability issues,” he said.
“Occasionally they still have issues.”
Mr Anderson does not believe relying on the Bathurst station is the answer.
He said in the past, whenever there was a major incident both Bathurst and Kelso brigades would respond.
“If Kelso is offline and can’t respond then we are relying on Bathurst,” Mr Anderson said.
“Not until there is a major incident will the flaws in this system be highlighted.
“It’s easier for management to say ‘let’s reduce the level of service and allow the station to close for that period of time’, than finding a solution.”
“The union believes management should do whatever is necessary to ensure Kelso stays online.
“Ways they could do this is to increase remuneration or change the way they operate to ensure there are four firefighters available at all times.
“Instead they would rather see stations close.
“As Kelso grows we should be enhancing the level of protection, not reducing it.”
He said it was time the public understood the gravity of the situation.
“This practice isn’t isolated to Kelso, it occurs right across regional areas,” he said.
“But they don’t publicise it because people would rise up.”
Bathurst MP Paul Toole said there has been a lot of capital investment in a truck and equipment at Kelso.
“It is important we do get retained firefighters and ensure the station does not go offline,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s as simple as finding more retained firefighters.
“I will continue to talk to the brigades and see what can be done.”