THE Taree community will be left with reduced fire services in coming weeks after the only full-time staff member at the local fire station was told he will not be replaced during an upcoming period of long service leave due to a new budget-cutting policy, according to the Fire Brigade Employees' Union.
In a memo sent to Fire and Rescue NSW area commanders by Assistant Commissioner Rob McNeil it was revealed that at 10 fire stations - including Taree - the station officer position would no longer be replaced when staff were on periods of planned leave.
The FBEU said the new policy meant fire services in Taree were being secretly downgraded without any consultation with the community or local retained firefighters.
"Taree Fire Station will be operating for several weeks without their station officer, which is the first time in decades that this essential role has been left unfilled in this local community," FBEU state secretary Jim Casey said.
"That means that anyone who knocks on the door of Taree Fire Station, or rings up for assistance with fire prevention and safety enquiries, will find it effectively closed for business during that period.
"The station officer provides a vital role in the local community, not only supporting the needs of the hard working retained firefighters, but also by carrying out essential fire safety work, educating people on how to reduce fire risks, and providing a face-to-face point of contact for anyone who attends the station during the week.
"But it's not too late to rectify this issue. Local MP Stephen Bromhead should urgently speak to his colleagues in the NSW Government and have this dangerous policy overturned and a temporary station officer sent to Taree to fill the breach," Mr Casey said.
The union said the internal memo not only confirmed the temporary downgrading of services through the loss of Station Officers - initially in ten regional communities across NSW - but also revealed that management are investigating the possibility of permanently removing these firefighters to meet the O'Farrell Government's budget cuts to emergency services.
The FRNSW memo specifically attributes the decision to not replace the station officers to recent State Government cuts to the brigade's budget, saying: "FRNSW is currently considering many strategies to assist meet (sic) the savings requirements of the Labour Expense Cap."
FBEU country sub-branch secretary Tim Anderson said the upcoming period without a station officer was not only a clear reduction to the fire services available to the people of Taree, but it would hamper the work of the town's hard working retained firefighters.
"Now is the time for Myall Lakes MP Stephen Bromhead and other local National Party MPs whose areas are impacted by this policy to stand up to their colleagues in the NSW Government and demand an end to these front-line service cuts in regional communities like Taree," Mr Anderson said.