Firefighters were forced to back down from their decision not to leave fire stations for non-emergency purposes yesterday, but have vowed a loud public campaign over the issue in the lead up to the election.
The United Firefighters Union sent a notice to members on Tuesday night, telling them only to leave stations for emergency situations.
That was sparked by concerns over the ''routine'' closure of stations, which the union feared were slowing response times and weakening the coverage of the brigade.
That decision put them on a crash course with Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell, who sought urgent intervention from Fair Work Australia over what he described as unlawful industrial action. A conference between the government and union yesterday morning ended with the United Firefighters Union agreeing to withdraw the notice to its members.Advertisement
Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell welcomed the backdown on what he described as unlawful industrial action.
He said the training did not cause any slowing of response times, and said pumpers at the Hume training facility remained active and ready to attend emergencies.
''We are open to discussing concerns that [the UFU] have,'' Mr Corbell said.
''The fact is training on duty is not a health and safety issue … training while on duty has been common practice for over a decade and for over a decade the ACT has maintained the best response times in the country.''
But UFU ACT branch secretary David Livingstone has described the decision as a ''shallow victory'' for Mr Corbell.
''The people who lose out are the public, and this just shows that the government will pull out all stops to save money at the expense of saving lives,'' Mr Livingstone said.
''The practice is going to continue, our members are reluctant to close their stations, but they've essentially been directed to,'' he said.
Mr Livingstone vowed there would be a public campaign over the issue.
He pointed to a house fire on Faithfull Circuit in Kambah this week which caused $200,000 damage, as an example of the possible consequences of closing stations.
''Yesterday Kambah fire station was scheduled to be out of area and at Hume to do training,'' Mr Livingstone said.
''As a result of the union direction, they weren't there, they were actually in station,'' he said.
''Had that fire happened while they were out at training as scheduled … that house would have burnt down, because it would have taken an additional eight minutes for Phillip to respond.''
That was strongly denied by the government, with Mr Corbell saying pumpers from three different stations had all arrived on the scene at the same time.
He said the closure of the Kambah station would have had no impact on the response to that incident.
A firefighter with 30 years' experience wrote a letter published on the The Canberra Times website yesterday.
In it, he describes attending a young man who hung himself in his family garage, being screamed at by the family of an elderly man having a cardiac arrest, and attending drug overdoses.
He said the closing down of stations also occurred because firefighters were sent to monitor burnt houses
''Response times are critical to saving lives, but apparently firefighters must leave our response areas to sit in a classroom in Hume with two or three appliances at a time, not just one appliance or area but multiple areas, leaving Canberra's families under-protected,'' he wrote.
Mr Corbell wrote a letter in response saying he had ensured firefighters were the best paid in the country, and had invested heavily in training facilities, and new trucks, equipment and stations.