Government staffing decisions could be putting lives at risk
"THEY'RE prepared to put a price on our safety."
Those were the words of one Sunshine Coast fire fighter, who spoke this week about fears current rostering could end up costing lives, as Coast fire crews were forced to regularly run "short staffed".
In the past 12 months, first-responding units from Nambour, Maroochydore, Caloundra and Gympie had been manned at "minimum crewing" - one station officer and two fire fighters - on 16 occasions, according to the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
One Coast fire officer, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal, said the current sick leave system meant crews were forced to drop one, sometimes two men, or leave specialist appliances unmanned altogether.
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Under the current model, a set allocation of sick-leave vacancies was designated to stations across the State, to ensure absent staff members would be replaced by another, who would cover them on overtime.
Once the designated, monthly leave allocations were exhausted, replacements were no longer provided, meaning crew numbers were reduced in size, usually towards the end of each month.
The Sunshine Coast firie said he believed the current system placed fire fighters' and community lives at risk, with crews forced to operate at reduced capability, meaning a high-rise fire could end in disaster, with specialist, high-level appliances left unmanned in the stations.
United Firefighters Union Queensland state secretary John Oliver expressed grave concerns for the ability of North Coast region - encompassing the Sunshine Coast - firies to ably battle a unit fire more than four storeys high, if a blaze were to start.
"I would have significant reservations that they (fire fighters) would be able to combat a high-rise fire in the North Coast region," Mr Oliver said.
"At the moment, the trucks will be full, but give it another four to five days and they'll start running short."
A QFES spokesman said it was not financially sustainable for QFES to replace 100% of staff absences at overtime rates.
The spokesman said the system allowed sufficient staff to roster one station officer and three fire-fighters per pumping appliance for stations where permanent firies worked, however, operational pumps could be crewed by one station officer and two firies, while backup was deployed.
Mr Oliver believed the QFES was placing fire fighters in an untenable position, where they were forced to break protocols when responding to incidents understaffed, as procedure dictated in some circumstance they could not take action with less than a full crew.
"Of course a firie is going to save a kid in a house fire even if he doesn't have enough crew," Mr Oliver said.
"I just can't imagine the pressure that would be put on a person responding if they're (protocols) saying that they can't go into a burning building."
The QFES spokesman said the North Coast region was "well-resourced", rejecting the claims that crews had been forced to run two staff short, also pointing out in the event the specialist appliance based in Maroochydore was unmanned when required, crews were called back in.
The UFUQ yesterday adopted a vote of no confidence in Fire Commissioner Lee Johnson, with the Sunshine Coast-based firie explaining they were simply battling to ensure adequate staffing for theirs and public safety.
"What we'd like to see is supplying adequate staffing and take away the ridiculous sick-leave model," he said.