At the Ballina Shire Council meeting Mayor David Wright used his casting vote to vote down the motion that, following the NSW elections, Ballina Council engage with the new Minister in support of the Special Roster, that is look at having two permanent firefighters based at the Ballina fire station.
This position was supported by Councillor Sharon Cadwallader who says they are not needed.
‘Ballina Fire Station is a new facility purpose built to accommodate the 18 retained fire fighters who live and work in Ballina and who provide 24/7 fire protection service. On average they attend 300 calls a year of which a third are false alarms,’ she told Echonetdaily.
Ballina Council paid $55.6k last year increasing to $57.6k this year and Ms Cadwallader says that ‘if permanent fire fighters, Monday to Friday working office hours, were appointed to Ballina Fire Station as Cr Willis is advocating, the council contribution would increase to approximately $100k’.
Fear of locals being displaced
Mayor Wright told Echontdaily that the reason he didn’t support the motion was because he wants ‘to do his own homework’.
He said held concerns that the permanent firefighters might come from outside the area displacing local, retained firefighters and that local firefighters said they didn’t need them. He also referenced the ‘pushy’ behaviour of the fire fighters union representatives during the state election at the Ballina polling booths.
Support for permanent firefighters
Supporting the push for permanent firefighters at Ballina Councillor Keith Williams pointed out that, ‘Ballina residents already pay 83 per cent of the cost of full time firefighters, but don’t get that level of service’.
‘The staffing model proposed by local Fire and Rescue Commanders to Ballina Councillors at a formal briefing was for the introduction of a special roster at the Ballina Fire Station, which would see two additional full-time staff to complement the existing retained fire fighters,’ he said.
‘There is no doubt our retained firefighters do a wonderful job. Our community owes them an enormous debt of gratitude for the vital service they provide. But no Councillor that I’m aware of is arguing to replace them.
‘Local Fire and Rescue commanders supported a special roster as it would enable those staff to focus on fire prevention. The response time is not an issue if we can prevent the fire in the first place.’
Byron in greater need
Local MP Tamara Smith recently met with both retained firefighters in Ballina and permanent Fire and Rescue firefighters that has led to a shift of focus away from Ballina to Byron Bay.
‘The consensus seems to be that the next urgent need for our region is a new fire station in Byron Bay and the appointment of full-time firefighters in Byron Bay,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘From all of the data I have seen the need seems to be in the north rather than the south of the electorate and I am keen to deliver a new fire station for Byron Bay and see full-time firefighters there.
‘When you consider the high risk events that take place in Byron Shire including lighthouse rescues and festivals as well as supporting over two million visitors per year. Not to mention the 2,000 whole-homes that are on home sharing platforms in Byron Bay with transient guests who may or may not be as responsible as permanent residents in terms of home safety – having a full-time firefighting staff and a new station is the next right thing to do to improve public safety.
‘A full-time staff allocation at the Byron Station will also allow for education around fires and other risks to members of the community. Proactive firefighting as well as proactive policing are the way of the future.’
This appears to be supported by Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) who’s spokesperson said, ‘Ballina and the surrounding area is currently well-protected 24/7 by retained firefighters at Ballina and Alstonville Fire Stations and the RFS.’
‘We consider a number of factors when rating a station’s staffing capacity, including (but not limited to) population growth, socio-economics, transient population, property density, infrastructure and the number of hazards in the area. Under the current rating, the retained staffing structure at Ballina Fire Station is sufficient to meet the community’s needs.’