Fire fight - firefighters push for 24/7 operation

NEW figures showing that Tamworth had 47 building fires last year will be used for a renewed push to get a 24-hour fire station operation, firefighters said yesterday.

The latest statistics show that 2012 was a dangerous year for fires – but Tamworth led the way when it came to most other regional cities and across the north, for the most number of building or house fires reported.

And while Tamworth reported almost one building fire a week, other regional leaders like Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange and Lismore all recorded lower callouts.

But while all those centres have manned 24-hour stations monitoring and fighting fires around the clock, a Tamworth firefighter union delegate claimed last night, Tamworth doesn’t.

Senior firefighter Gary Cork, one of 11 permanent firemen providing two shifts across seven days a week, believes politics and budgetary constraints have prevented Tamworth from having a 24/7 operation.

Mr Cork said the latest statistics would add fuel to the fire for both union and senior firefighting management to lobby the main stakeholders, Tamworth Regional Council and the state government, to put Tamworth on round-the-clock status.

“Yes, the bulk of house fires has tended to be in those overnight hours, that’s been one of our major arguments for a 24-hour operation; that particularly in the after-hours period when people are sleeping, that we should have permanent firefighters on duty,” Mr Cork said.

At the moment, the permanent shift finishes at 6pm each day, and retained firefighters, or on-call firemen numbering 18 to 22, do duty until 6am.

The regulations provide that they have to come from their homes to the station, and four of them have to be there, before the brigade can leave.

“These latest figures are something that Tamworth council can use, and so can member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson, to argue for the government to say yes to 24-hour operations,” Mr Cork said.

“I believe we’re about the second biggest regional area in NSW – even smaller centres don’t hold a candlestick to Tamworth – but they have 24-hour operations.

“We will be renewing our push as a union but our new superintendent, Steve Hirst, has been proactive and had meetings with the council about advancing our cause.”

Mr Cork said while building fires might represent the biggest threat to the safety of life and property, they did not add up to the biggest number of fire callouts each day, with Hazmat, rescue, fire and smoke alarms and grassfires all adding to the daily workload. 

The callout rate had increased significantly since he moved to Tamworth 14 years ago, he said.

The TRC area, which takes in Manilla, Nundle, Barraba and Bendemeer districts, reported 47 building fires, which can range from burning materials in nursing homes, to sheds and houses, with seven reported last April, six each in May, October and November and two each in January, February and June.

September was the only month fire-free in buildings.

Orange council area reported 29 for the year, Port Macquarie 39, Wagga Wagga 48, Dubbo 23, Lismore 21, Albury 30, Bathurst 21 and Coffs Harbour 30.

Mr Cork said all of those centres had 24-hour fire stations. 

Statistics released yesterday  by Fire and Rescue NSW showed there were 21 preventable fire deaths, 649 fire injuries and more than 4219 house fires in NSW in 2012.

The latest FRNSW figures show small increases in the number of fire deaths and house fires compared to 2011. The biggest increase was the number of fire injuries, up 33, compared to 2011.

Nearly three-quarters of the fire victims were male and nearly 30 per cent of those were aged more than 65 years.

FRNSW Commissioner Greg Mullins said 2013 had already got off to a busy start with more than 310 calls for assistance received by 6am on New Year’s Day.

There have been three building fires in Tamworth and Gunnedah since January 1.

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