NSW accused of jeopardising Sydney’s water supply with decision to axe firefighters

The following news article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday the 13th of December 2018. This article supports the views as felt by many but not all volunteers, that the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is continuing to build its empire and is heading down the same path as Victoria.

The VFFA is concerned that the good will of volunteers is being abused as the RFS takes on a plethora of new disciplines and is developing into a stand-alone duplication of Fire and Rescue NSW in many areas. The VFFA is also concerned that the State Mitigation Service staff are becoming the paid firefighters of the RFS into the future.

The VFFA is not opposed to the development of any services or disciplines that benefit RURAL communities but this article and the comments captured from Facebook, suggest a number of government moves to replace National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff with cheaper options.

The article states that WaterNSW said they would not be using volunteers. This can only mean that the RFS paid firefighters will be used when required and there is no doubt that volunteers will be responded as is the current situation.

These cheaper options will come at a cost to our volunteers as they are expected to pick up the slack. There are also additional costs associated with the further development of the paid RFS firefighting staff into the future.

Feel free to add comments below.

By Anne Davies – 13th Dec 2018.

NSW National Parks staff are preparing to rally outside NSW parliament over job losses in the parks service

A move to dismantle the specialist firefighting team based at Nepean dam has outraged NSW National Parks staff. Photograph: Rob Griffith/AFP/Getty Images

The quality of Sydney’s water supply could be put at risk by a decision to axe a specialist team of firefighters from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, which currently patrols the vast catchment surrounding Sydney’s dams, the union representing parks staff says.

WaterNSW, which manages the catchment on behalf of the NSW government, has confirmed it is ending its contract with National Parks for firefighting services at the end of this summer.

Instead it will use firefighters from the Rural Fire Service to defend the half a million hectare area that makes up the Warragamba special area.

The move to dismantle the specialist firefighting team based at Nepean dam has outraged National Parks staff. The team is trained in remote area firefighting and rescue operations in the largely inaccessible area.

Public Service Association of NSW organiser Kim de Govrik said the decision would mean the loss of 20 years of expertise in protecting the catchment, which supplies water to 5 million Sydneysiders.

“What happens to the quality of drinking water for 5 million people if there is a fire?” he said.

Fires and firefighting could potentially put the water quality at risk as it could lead to greater erosion after a fire, ash contamination and possibly chemical contamination, depending on what methods are used to fight blazes, he said.

A spokesman for WaterNSW said: “WaterNSW recognises bushfire as a potential risk to water quality and detrimental to its environmental objectives in Sydney’s drinking water catchment.”

“As such, each fire season WaterNSW contracts firefighting expertise to conduct a rapid-fire response service in the special areas within Sydney’s drinking water catchment.

“WaterNSW can confirm its intention to enlist the services of the NSW Rural Fire Service and their expertise for the next fire season.”

WaterNSW said they would not be using volunteers.

With the NSW election due in March, environmental issues and national parks are shaping as an point of differentiation between Labor and the Coalition.

NSW National Parks staff are preparing to hold a media conference with the opposition leader, Michael Daley, on Thursday over job losses in the parks service.

The Public Service Association of NSW general secretary, Stewart Little, said one in three park rangers had been cut under the Coalition government.

“We’ve lost 100 of 300 ranger positions, at a time when money is washing around the state’s coffers,” he said.

Instead the government has been hiring more junior field officers, which has allowed it to claim that park staff numbers remain the same.

The following comments were captured from Facebook:

  • Could the RFS please explain?
  • Is RAFT now getting paid?
  • Is there a new paid wing of the RFS coming to town?
  • Is this a two state solution like the CFA?
  • A total sell out
  • How many volunteers want to be on standby for 12hrs a day?
  • Its not the RFS’s place to bid for a contract that expects volunteers to step up
  • Are we becoming a hybrid paid / volunteer service?
  • Welcome to the CFA circus
  • Volunteers will end up taking a back seat as paid staff are developed
  • This is empire building and pissing contests
  • This is destroying the volunteer organisation
  • I bet the RFSA rolled over and took another tummy rub from Sydney
  • The Service hasn’t given a damn what volunteers think for a long time
  • The RFS used the Volunteer brand and experience to win this contract
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