Paxton firefighters could not respond to a man and woman who spilt nitric acid on themselves yesterday because the station was offline.
Paxton fire station was three streets away from the incident in Frances Street, yet the call centre had to send fire crews from Weston, Bellbird and Maitland, two from Cessnock and the heavy Hazmat vehicle from Newcastle.
Fortunately the man and woman knew enough first aid to treat themselves until firefighters arrived and flushed the wounds with water while paramedics were en route.
Maitland Community Unions Alliance spokeswoman Mary Yaager said this was the second time in weeks that an incident had occurred in Paxton and fire crews had to be brought in from other areas to respond.
She emphasised the need for Fire and Rescue NSW to staff every fire station in case of an emergency.
“We need people ready and waiting to respond quickly if something happens,” she said. “What would have happened if this incident was catastrophic? The state government has to stop putting stations offline.”
Ms Yaager said the Maitland and Cessnock area needed a heavy Hazmat vehicle with specialised firefighters who were equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to deal with dangerous substances.
“With our growing population we need one of these for our area that we can call upon,” she said.
“It has all of the equipment to deal with an incident like this, whereas the ordinary pump can only do a minimal amount of Hazmat, and the tanker only has an intermediate Hazmat ability.”
Firefighters worked to neutralise the nitric acid with an alkaline agent and removed the contents into a special chemical resistant bin.
The man and woman suffered minor skin contamination and did not need to be taken to hospital.
Ms Yaager praised the firefighters for their efforts and said the government needed to give them more support for their life-saving work.
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokeswoman said the Paxton station was regularly offline because many of the on-call firefighters attached to the station were not available to respond to incidents during the day.
She said Paxton’s inability to respond yesterday did not impact on the response because firefighters from Cessnock were on scene within 12 minutes – about the same time on-call Paxton firefighters would have taken to travel from their home or workplace to the station, and then to the incident.
She said seven crews responded.