The NSW firefighters union has slammed the Barry O’Farrell state government for recent budget cuts that left five fire stations closed as more than 60 bushfires raged across the state on September 10.
Following the warmest night and day temperatures ever recorded for a Sydney spring, three major fires broke out in the western Sydney suburbs of Marsden Park, Castlereagh and Windsor. Another big fire threatened homes in Winmalee in the Blue Mountains.
By September 11, all four big fires had been brought under control. Two homes were destroyed and seven firefighters were injured.
NSW Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (FBEU) secretary Jim Casey said on September 10 that the O’Farrell government’s policy of closing fire stations was putting the public at risk.
Casey said: “Budget cuts and the irresponsible policy of closing fire stations meant that as fire conditions developed into a major emergency today, fire stations across the city were shut.”
Stations were left vacant in Ryde, Macquarie Fields, Ashfield, Botany and Newtown during the bushfire emergency. “Off-duty fire crews had to be called in as neighbouring stations raced to protect life and property, all because budget cuts have left large areas of Sydney without adequate fire protection,” Casey said.
The FBEU said the fire station at Castlereagh had been closed over the two days immediately before the September 10 bushfire broke out.
The FBEU called on the O’Farrell government to end the budget cuts and restore full staffing to all stations. It also said it had repeatedly warned the state government that its station closure policy was dangerous.
“Fire stations, like all emergency services, are there for a reason — to respond quickly and on short notice,” said Casey. “Current budget cuts mean the state government is treating fire protection like a game of musical chairs, shuffling resources around the city and hoping they aren’t caught out.
“At some stage the music will stop and they will be left exposed, with communities around Sydney and the state the ones that will suffer.”
A week earlier, the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) also warned that NSW should prepare for an “above normal fire potential” across the state.
The Bushfire CRC said a record warm winter combined with low rainfall had “resulted in a drying trend for forest fuels,” ABC Radio said on September 2.