A POLITICAL spotfire has erupted again over a million-dollar fire truck promised to Warrnambool, but sitting idle because of a long-running dispute between the Country Fire Authority and the United Firefighters’ Union.
The aerial pumper truck allocated months ago for Warrnambool to cover the south-west including Portland, Hamilton and Camperdown, can’t be used until the dispute is resolved and the station is modified.
It was sitting in the Warrnambool fire station yard last Thursday when the devastating Telstra exchange broke out and would have been a key tool for local firefighters.
However, they had to rely on conventional vehicles for the initial fire attack and then wait two hours for a high-reach ladder truck to be brought in from Ballarat.
The new aerial pumper truck had been driven to Warrnambool earlier in the week to go on display at the fire station open day on Sunday.
Union members want two extra staff per shift employed at Warrnambool to handle the extra workload and the station needs larger accommodation quarters and garage extensions.
South West Coast MP Denis Napthine has stoked up the verbal heat by claiming the union was more interested in its own agenda than community needs.
“The last thing we need is a quality appliance for high-rise fires sitting as a white elephant,” he said.
“I would urge the union to put the community ahead of its own self-interest.”
Union state secretary Peter Marshall snapped back by accusing Dr Napthine of putting political spin before facts.
“Here we have $1m worth of public money sitting idle for 12 months and the state government has cut the budget and taken $66m out of fire services,” he said.
“The vehicle is starting to rust and its hydraulic hoses are deteriorating.
“The previous government allocated the money and approved staffing, now that’s stalled.
“There’s a real urgency with summer season approaching.”
Dr Napthine told The Standard Emergency Services Minister Peter Ryan told him this week the Warrnambool truck was a priority issue for CFA leaders. “I’d back the judgment of CFA management ahead of the union to determine staffing levels,” Dr Napthine said.
Back on July 31, CFA headquarters told The Standard the specialised aerial tanker truck was in the final stages of modifications and would be delivered later in the year after the station was modified.
A CFA spokeswoman told The Standard this week negotiations with the union were continuing and plans for station modifications were under way.
Warrnambool’s mayor Michael Neoh, who attended the open day, said there was a sense of frustration among emergency service personnel that the vehicle had not been commissioned for use. “It’s a huge issue in our capability to fight fires in the Warrnambool region,” Cr Neoh said.
The new aerial pumper has a long-reach hydraulic arm with a nozzle for fighting fires in tall or inaccessible buildings including large industrial sites, office complexes, hospitals and other vital buildings.
The Ballarat ladder truck was used by firefighters to reach over the top of the Warrnambool Telstra exchange and remove roofing iron so a thermal imaging camera could be lowered into the fire area.