Maitland was set last night to be without a fire station today because of restrictions on overtime introduced in the wake of the state government’s cutbacks to Fire and Rescue NSW.
The “potentially disastrous and life threatening” situation has been compounded with Cessnock district back-up stations at Paxton, Kearsley, Bellbird and Abermain also temporarily closed, a union official confirmed.
A risk management report has recommended that Cessnock fire station be kept open because stations around it had been closed.
The report also recommended Maitland be closed to ensure Cessnock remained open.
Maitland’s backup for fire emergencies will come from Kurri Kurri, Weston and Cessnock fire stations – if they are not already busy.
It’s the first time restricted staffing levels at Maitland has forced the temporary closure of the station but a union official said stations right across the district including Maitland, Telarah and Morpeth were only one sick call away from being closed on any day.
“It is potentially dangerous and life threatening,” Unions NSW spokeswoman Mary Yaager said.
“It will result in lives lost.”
Maitland, the city’s biggest station, has four permanent firefighters but if one calls in sick or cannot attend work for any reason the station will be closed because the government does not want to pay an on-call firefighter overtime to take their place, Ms Yaager said.
“On-call firefighters do not get paid a lot of money, they would earn around $1500 a year, they do it for the love of helping others,” she said.
“The only way to meet the new budget is to restrict staff and residents will be at risk because of it.”
Ms Yaager said Morpeth and Telarah fire stations were at constant risk of temporary closure.
She said she feared permanent closure of smaller stations would be the next step by the cash-strapped fire service as it tried to juggle its resources.
A spokesperson for Minister for Emergency Services Michael Gallacher denied the government’s cost-cutting had led to the temporary closure of stations, saying there was “no impact” on stations in Maitland or Cessnock because of budget constraints.
The Mercury sought comment from the Fire and Rescue NSW but at the time of printing the service had not responded.
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