Safe Minimum Staffing and In Order 1995/20

March 24, 2000

Members have heard all the nonsense that senior management ram down our throats about “quality service delivery”, “stakeholders” and “moving towards a world class fire service”, etc. If they’re so committed to these objectives, why is that they keep trying to reduce the service we provide to the community?The latest incarnation of this trend is the staffing of water tankers. It seems the Department has decided that staffing of water tankers is optional, and that tankers can simply be put off line if sufficient retained firefighters are not available. The NSWFB has never operated appliances in this way. If there has been an appliance (or multiple appliances) at a station then it has (or they have) always been staffed.

You only need to look back 2 years or so to see how permanently-staffed water tankers were always worked. If a staff shortage occurred the tanker wasn’t grounded. Instead, either a relieving firefighter was directed to the station or a member was brought in on overtime to fill the vacancy. This happened 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, summer or winter, rain or shine, because the firefighters on the tanker were part of the minimum staffing of that station.

So what’s happened to change this? In our view, nothing. In 1997 our Union agreed to change from permanent to retained staffing on 9 water tankers in Sydney and Newcastle, and to redirect those permanent positions to new country locations (ie., the country staffing program). We also concluded an agreement with the Department for relocation of these tankers (eg Forestville’s tanker was to go to Berowra to be staffed by new and existing retained members) – but that was all. We certainly never agreed to, nor intended any change other than the change from permanent to retained staffing. We didn’t agree to casual staffing of the tankers, nor to taking any tankers off line if retained availability became an issue.

In Order 1995/20 was negotiated by the Union to maintain safe minimum crewing. It requires all Station Commanders to notify their senior officer if retained availability is short – if you don’t then the blame will fall squarely on you if anything ever goes wrong (and you can expect the Department to drop you like a hot potato if it does!). Tell them if you’re short because then it becomes the Department’s responsibility, not yours. And be sure to tell the Union if nothing is done to fix it because we need to know before we can begin to force the issue.

In Order 1995/20 isn’t about overtime for permanent members; it’s simply about your safety, community safety and ensuring that the Department employs the necessary number of retained firefighters to keep all appliances on the road with safe staffing levels. In contrast, the Department’s attempt to ground appliances has nothing to do with building “a world class fire service”: that requires money.

Chris Read,
State Secretary
Friday 24th March, 2000