Right now, ACT’s fire services face huge pressures due to a growing population in the ACT and extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Recruitment has failed to keep pace with retirements, resignations and absences which has made it increasingly difficult to fill shifts. Last year, the ACT Government invested in additional recruitment rounds for fire services, but this commitment will be wasted if there is no further investment in fire services over the next four years. Experts agree that without major investment in new fire stations and staff, our Fire and Rescue services won’t be able to meet the needs demanded of them.
The United Firefighters Union of Australia wants the Territory Government to invest in the following key areas:
New stations and more firefighters
Funding for more crew for an additional pumper at a new fire station in Acton by 2021 and Molonglo by 2023.
Additional staff and facilities for much needed training
Increased funding for staff training, skills maintenance and future recruit colleges.
Additional support staff
More investment into Breathing Apparatus Section, Community Safety, and Technical and Operational Support Services.
Firefighters for high fire danger days
Increasing the relief factor from 0.5 to 0.6 to allow firefighters to take leave and reduce overtime costs, and more funding to crew bushfire trucks on high fire danger days, and to cover for absences during training and interstate or overseas deployments.
Properly crewing new aerial pumper
More funding for additional crew for the aerial pumper instead of relying on 100% crew from ComCen.
Part time and flexible work options to support diversity in the ACT’s fire services.
“The ACT bushfire season is starting earlier and lasting longer. Each fire season we see more intense fire events,”
Experts support these calls for greater investment. Reports from RMIT University have stated that there is currently little scope for ACT Fire and Rescue services to be able to meet the challenges it faces without additional investment in fire stations and staff.
We need urgent investment into our fire services now, so that we can keep the ACT safe in the future.
Why does it matter?
Excessive overtime and recall duty
Fire services recruitment has failed to keep pace with retirements, resignations and absences (workers compensation, long term leave) and it has become more difficult to fill shifts through recall to duty. This is a direct symptom of not recruiting enough firefighters, and not increasing the relief factor.
As a result, the firefighter overtime bill in 2015-16 was stated by the ESA to be $4.1 million.
For the 2017-18 financial year this increased to an estimated $5.005 million, and for 2018-19 was estimated to be $6.132 million.
This is based on over 117,000 overtime hours paid for 2017-18, and over 142,000 hours for 2018-19. The overtime bill rose by approximately 25% in 2 years, and a further 21% in one year.
Additionally, this shortage means that firefighters are being recalled to duty with as little as a 4-hour break in a 38-hour period.
This is an unsustainable work, health and safety issue which must be resolved through proper recruitment and staffing.
A modern training regime
There are currently only three areas of skills maintenance mandated: driving a truck, wearing breathing apparatus, and advanced first aid. The UFU has proposed a new allowance structure and mandatory skills maintenance so that firefighter skills are kept up to date. The new regime would require three yearly assessments in critical areas like vertical rescue, trench rescue, urban search and rescue, swift water rescue and HAZMAT.
This training would also increase the level of education provided for emergency medical assistance. This requires an investment to ensure that Canberra can be assured that firefighters are trained to the highest standards.
To support this training effort, an upgrade of the Huma Training facility is required.
Firefighters are the only occupation in the world who have won presumptive rights in workers’ compensation. ACT firefighters who succumb to any of a list of 12 cancers are “presumed” to have developed cancer through their work. While this is important, prevention and cure is better than compensation.
For this reason, the UFU has proposed a comprehensive wellbeing initiative, based on the success of a similar initiative for Edmonton firefighters. This would include early screening for cancers and other illnesses, and fitness trainers in each platoon. This will in turn assist in lowering workers compensation premiums.
Modern Fire Station Standards
We are seeking the inclusion of detailed fire station standards in the enterprise agreement, to ensure that funds spent on renovations and new fire stations result in facilities that are fit for purpose and ensure firefighter safety and wellbeing.
Experts agree we must invest now
A 2019 study conducted by RMIT university observed:
“There is little scope for it (ACT Fire and Rescue) to be able to meet the substantial challenges it now faces without major investment in new fire stations and staff needed to operate them as well as the crew numbers” (A Better Fire and Rescue Service for the ACT: Recommendations for Reform)
What will it cost?
Minimum $45 million investment over the next four years.
Expert modelling shows we will need at least 124 additional firefighters in the ACT by 2023.
Tell the ACT Government not to play with fire. Write to Chief Minister Barr and your local MP now and demand a modern fire service for the ACT.
Will you join our campaign and ACT ON FIRE?
We are calling on the ACT Government to act on fire and invest $45 million in fire and rescue support over the next four years.
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