The Union has today learnt that the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) course scheduled to commence next Monday May 11 has been cancelled by the Department. It is important that members understand that:
1. the Union appreciates the importance of USAR to both our members and the NSWFB, and remains supportive of this additional training – leading to additional skills and responsibilities – going ahead, and
2. the Department is solely responsible for the cancellation of the course.
On Monday afternoon the parties met to discuss the Department’s proposal of April 28 that 2 water tankers be de-staffed for three weeks in order that the USAR training course could be ‘cost-neutral’. The Dept. proposed that the 16 firefighters released from the water tankers would become ‘temporary’ relieving firefighters to fill the vacancies caused by the holding of the USAR course. Last Friday the Union’s State Committee dismissed this as an unacceptable precedent. The Dept. also suggested that instead of de-staffing water tankers, we might agree to de-staff two dedicated rescue appliances (eg 68’s and 15’s) and operate those two stations as pumper-rescue stations only, again creating 16 ‘temporary’ r/f’s. However, the Dept. went further to suggest that this could become an ongoing mechanism by which all sorts of training might be able to be carried out within the Brigades on a cost-neutral basis to the Dept. The Union rejected this proposal also.
In short, if the Union had agreed to de-staff appliances for this training course, where would it all end? This Union has never accepted that appliances can be taken ‘off the run’ – not even temporarily. It’s not in our interests, nor the communities that we protect. If we ever did, we would effectively be accepting that the resource in question was never really required anyway – sooner or later leading to it being lost altogether. In short, we want more training, but not at the expense of current jobs and resources which we maintain for the community.
On Monday the Union’s representatives put forward a counter proposal (subject to rank and file approval) to release all of the 6 remaining water tankers’ staff immediately, provided the Dept. and Govt. agreed to an extension of the ‘one for one’ water tanker arrangement to create permanent staffing at new, agreed locations within the next 8 months. The savings to the Department in overtime in the interim would be huge, and would go far beyond the 3 week USAR course. The real dinosaurs in our industry – senior management – simply couldn’t grapple with such a concept. It was far easier for them to cancel the USAR course, and to continue to blame you and your Union for the Brigades’ overtime bill.