Professional firefighter and community health at risk

Fire Brigade Employees' Union of NSW

Professional Firefighters, employed by Fire & Rescue NSW and members of the Fire Brigade Employees Union, are having their health put at risk through inaction and a disregard for the COVID-19 health situation by their employer.

Many Fire & Rescue NSW firefighters live in regional parts of NSW, and work at fire stations in Sydney or in other ‘affected areas’. These firefighters are being directed by Fire & Rescue NSW to report for duty in the Greater Sydney Area, with many being forced to attend work in the GSA, often in positions that are surplus to staffing levels whilst positions in their local areas are being filled by other firefighters on overtime. This is not only nonsensical but a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars”.

Forcing firefighters who live in the regions to report to stations in the heart of Sydney is putting them directly in the middle of an unfolding health crisis, and if they contract the virus, bringing it back with them to regional communities where there are currently no cases.

There are also firefighters who live inside the Greater Sydney Area who are being forced to perform work in communities where there are no COVID restrictions, under the guise of an exemption to the public health orders.

Their Union, the FBEU, has directed firefighters who live outside the Greater Sydney Area to report for duty at their closest station, and to be prepared to perform any duties outside of the affected area. Similarly, for any firefighters who live within the affected area, they are being asked to remain within that area and not risk working in regional communities.

Firefighters who are following these instructions and acting to protect themselves, their families and their communities, are being threatened with disciplinary action by Fire & Rescue NSW.

Firefighters can work at different stations every shift and have contact with multiple other firefighters from other crews at any incident, so the risk of community transmission is high – and it’s important for their employer to protect them. When they fail to do so, the Union will step in, and firefighters must not be punished for their compassion and dedication to protecting their community in every way.

NSW Police Force is supporting police officers who live outside of the Greater Sydney Area but work within it, NSW train drivers are not being forced into the affected area, so why are firefighters needing to?

QUOTES ATTRIBUTABLE TO MATT GRAVES, ACTING PRESIDENT OF THE FIRE BRIGADE EMPLOYEES’ UNION

“Firefighters are always there when the community needs them, and it’s about time that the Government repay that dedication by working to protect them in every way possible.

“We know that when firefighters have returned to their local communities after working at fire stations in the Sydney area during previous outbreaks, them and their families are being shunned and treated differently. This should not be happening and is easily avoidable.

“The Union’s direction to its members is supported by firefighters, the community, and common sense. Where possible, work in affected areas should be avoided. Working at a fire station and responding to incidents at homes, quarantine hotels, hospitals and everything in between makes this a high-risk environment for community transmission.

“The Berejiklian Government should be doing everything it can to protect the heroes who fought to halt the 2019-20 bushfires, who cleaned up the north coast after the 2021 floods, and who respond every single day to help people on the worst day of their lives. The Government’s approach to firefighter movements in this latest outbreak is disrespectful.

“Firefighters are used to putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the community, but where it is avoidable, it should be avoided. Firefighters should be able to report for duty in a safe working environment, rather than fearing for their families and community every time they show up to work.

“To threaten disciplinary action to any firefighter who is protecting themselves, their family and their community by avoiding working in the Greater Sydney Area, is a disgraceful act that the FBEU totally condemns.

“The Union direction is causing zero impact to the operations of Fire & Rescue NSW, so it is time for them to stop threatening to discipline members and get with the program. This is a public health and safety emergency.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length.