Do we need full-time firefighters in Ballina?

OPEN DAY: Ballina's new fire station on Tamarind Dr.Photo Graham Broadhead / Ballina Shire Advocate
OPEN DAY: Ballina's new fire station on Tamarind Dr.Photo Graham Broadhead / Ballina Shire Advocate Graham Broadhead

A DEVASTATING tragedy is usually what it takes for conservative governments to properly resource emergency services, Fire Brigade Employees Union representative Tim Anderson said.

The country sub-branch representative said the union was pushing for full-time firefighters to be rostered at the new Ballina fire station.

"The fire brigade has acknowledged that the area around Ballina does warrant a full-time fire station and that's from three or four years ago,” he said.

"Things have changed politically now.

"What we find is when there's a conservative government in power, is that unfortunately it normally takes a disaster before we see action in regards to the level of fire protection provided.

"And that disaster usually results in someone losing their life in a fire.

"And we'd rather not see that happen. We'd rather see those enhancements being done incrementally to ensure we've got the right level of fire protection there when a disaster does occur.”

The new $4.3 million fire station on Tamarind Dr was officially opened earlier this month, but has been operational since December last year. 

The station currently operates on a retained firefighter model.

The issue of full-time firefighters was addressed at the opening, however Fire and Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner Graeme Finney said that wasn't going to change in the near future.

He said the appointment of full-time firefighters was made following assessments of risks, including things like population density, the growth of a community and environmental risk.

In the last financial year, Ballina firefighters responded to 270 fires.

Mr Anderson said the rapidly expanding airport, which is one of the largest in the state, and the increased traffic that it brings as well as a fast growing population, meant the level of current fire protection wasn't matching the risk.

"It's a no-brainer,” he said.

"The northern part of NSW, that north-eastern corner, is expanding and growing so rapidly.

"We recently got a full-time 24-hour fire station in Lismore a couple of years ago and obviously we've got Tweed Heads.

"We would assume that the same logic that saw Lismore go would see Ballina demand that level of fire protection.”

Mr Anderson stressed the push for full-time firefighters wasn't a reflection on the retained firefighters, who did an incredible job.

He said it was a matter of response times which would always be faster for full time firefighters who were permanently at station compared to retained firefighters who had to respond from their home or work to jobs. 

Mr Anderson said permanent firefighters would also be able to do things like building inspections and community fire safety awareness programs at places like schools and nursing homes.

"All those things that are educating the community so we don't see incidents occurring,” he said.

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