The news yesterday that Rural Fire Service jobs are in danger of being cut will send shivers of alarm through most in the regions.
Media predictably seized on the suggestions that up to 120 jobs are to go – and we caution the government on any slash-and-burn policies that might see those jobs go at the risk of lives and property loss.
Public service industrial officers suggest the bush cuts are to fund new infrastructure in the city of Sydney.
The suggested cuts of about 1200 in regional areas spans more than the fire services. It may hit other departments and agencies that essentially provide a whole range of services to residents.
These include the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Office of Water, Forests NSW, and Crown Lands.
Some of these look to be the victims of bottom-line budgeting, but in areas that we rely on to save lives.
There is no wonder that the prospect of such job cuts, particularly in the fire services area, had provoked a fair bit of anger.
The news comes as we prepare to enter a volatile spring and summer.
Fuel loads are up and given the unpredictable nature of winds and storms there are fire chiefs right across the north who are dreading warmer weather.
Already we have seen fire permit suspended for five days in August and although lifted today in the New England and Northern Tablelands, safety officers remain on alert
and are appealing to landowners to take additional care with any hazard burns.
Already they’ve seen numerous fires across the ranges and the slopes, many because of burns that blew out of control, but also others ignited by
sparks from welding equipment or grinders in other areas.
We’ve already had perfect conditions for fires. The next few weeks will only add to that recipe.
The Rural Fire Service is a combat agency as we know. Reducing the manpower at a time when even the Emergency Services minister has predicted a bad fire season smacks of premature, unplanned cost-cutting.
These essential services that save lives and property are being eroded perhaps simply by some bureaucrat who sees it as an expedient move in the budget boning. If there is no fall back and systems are not in place that preserve the troops on the ground where they are needed, then thecost-cutting is simply an executive error – but one that could spell disaster.