Casino fire station will be unstaffed when the sole station officer takes annual leave later his month and Richmond Valley mayor Ernie Bennett is demanding the state government explain why.
Firefighters are worried that the cutback in services will leave Casino residents exposed to unnecessary fire risks during the traditionally busy winter period.
Mr Bennett says the council wasn’t consulted over the service withdrawal. And he has likened the change to the lack of a 24-hour police station in the town, which he says is reflected in crime statistics.
‘We contribute quite a lot of money so I’d have at least expected some discussion from the government,’ mayor Bennett said.
‘We’ve written to our local member Chris Gulaptis asking what’s going on but we’re very disappointed – the government should’ve talked to us first.’
The Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (FBEU) revealed last week that Casino’s only full-time firefighter was told he would not be replaced when he goes on four weeks leave this month.
FBEU state secretary Jim Casey said it was part of a cost-cutting measure implemented at 10 regional stations in NSW without any community consultation.
‘Our union has written to the local National Party MPs to urge them to immediately contact their colleagues in the NSW government and ask that this policy be overturned and a replacement station officer be brought to Casino to cover this period of leave,’ Mr Casey said.
‘We also contacted local councillors, highlighting that Richmond Valley Council provides a major source of funding for local fire services and should expect that the level of these services will be retained, not temporarily cut.
‘Winter traditionally sees a surge in house fires, making the reduction of fire services for four weeks from July 27 particularly concerning to the local retained firefighters, who will lose the essential support the station officer provides.
‘This winter will be the first time in decades that Casino Fire Station will be forced to operate without their full-time station officer who carries out front-line firefighting, community education, and fire prevention work.’
Cr Bennett echoed the union’s concerns and questioned who would benefit from the cutbacks.
‘We need further discussion to find out what it’s all about and understand who’s saving money here,’ he asked.
‘Who are the savings going to benefit, both the council and the government or just the government? There needs to be more consultation.
‘If you or I happen to be the one who had their house catch fire, I’m not sure we’d want to wait because someone’s not on duty at the time.
‘It’s like the lack of a 24-hour police station, it’s about time we had that. The crime statistics show we need a 24-hour police station and it’s about time somebody stepped up and made that happen too.’
But Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has been unmoved by the appeal and said the service reduction was necessary to meet budget constraints.
‘As much as don’t want to see cutbacks we do have to work within a budget so we have no choice,’ he said.
‘I don’t want to see any withdrawal of services, even withdrawing by not backfilling, but the public need to be reassured that they’re being protected.
‘We’re talking about a minimal amount of time that’s generally outside the time most fires happen.
‘I have raised it with the minister and will continue to do so but the position we’re talking about is the fire station officer’s position not being filled when he’s on holidays so it’s not like they’re removing it.’
FBEU country sub-branch secretary Tim Anderson, said the temporary loss of a station officer would directly impact on emergency response times.
‘The lack of a full-time station officer means that in many situations the Casino brigade will have to wait for four firefighters, rather than three, to attend the station via pager before they can respond to an incident,’ he said.
‘There is no question this will have an impact on response times to some incidents.
Mr Anderson also questioned the effect of the decision on Casino’s economy, fearing the temporary reduction in services was a stepping stone to permanently removing the position.
‘The temporary removal of the only full-time firefighter in town sets a worrying precedent that we fear will open the way to a permanent reduction to Casino’s fire services.’
Mr Gulaptis said he would continue to monitor the situation.
‘I don’t see a downsizing happening with the inquiries I’ve made to date and I’d be very concerned if that was the case,’ he said.