Firefighters took 13 minutes to respond to a serious car fire at Kearsley yesterday because the closest fire station was offline, a union spokeswoman said.
Maitland Community Unions Alliance spokeswoman Mary Yaager said Cessnock firefighters were called to an LPG car fire on Kearsley Road at 8.54am because the Kearsley fire station, which is two minutes from the scene, had been offline for the past nine days.
She said firefighters were concerned the gas tank could have exploded and caused serious injury to anyone near the site and started a fire in nearby bush land.
A fire station goes offline when the full crew is not available.
“The Cessnock crew had to drive past Kearsley fire station to get to the car fire and it took 13 minutes for them to get there instead of two minutes,” Ms Yaager said.
“This is the reality of the state government’s budget cuts to Fire and Rescue NSW; the budget has been reduced and wage cuts have been made to allow the service to work within the new budget.”
A Fire and Rescue spokeswoman said Kearsley fire station had been offline since March 20 because there was a critical shortage of retained firefighters at the station and an intensive recruitment program was under way.
“It has been very difficult to find local residents willing to become on-call firefighters in Kearsley,” she said.
“Three firefighters are injured and two have recently transferred to other stations, leaving insufficient numbers to crew the truck.”
The spokeswoman said the station was close to several Fire and Rescue stations, including Cessnock, as well as numerous Rural Fire Service stations, which could respond to incidents.
Ms Yaager said firefighters had told her only one station between Kurri Kurri, Weston and Abermain was allowed to remain open at any time and, while stations in the Maitland area had remained open over the long-weekend, Maitland fire station had been offline twice last week and the week before.
A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher said there had not been any changes to the Fire and Rescue NSW budget.
He said the government relied on speaking to Fire and Rescue NSW to determine the needs of the service and that the practice of taking stations offline had occurred over the past 100 years and did not put lives in danger.