Not only fire fighters dangling at end of line

Mercifully this summer’s fire season has been relatively quiet so far for the Far South Coast.

There is always a nervousness as the summer season approaches. With 78 per cent of the shire either National Park or state forest, there is good cause for caution.

Which is why staff cuts to fire management officers in the National Parks and Wildlife Service is all the more concerning. Recent restructuring has meant cuts have been made to pest management officers and fire management officers.

The Public Service Association said that the cuts to specialist roles mean fewer conservation programs, reduced maintenance of facilities and fire hazard reduction, less focus on dealing with pests and weeds, and the increasing problem of wild dogs and deer and warned that the impact of this restructure will be felt hardest in the regions.

When fires occur in National Parks experienced people are vital. NPWS firefighters can be dropped into the most remote and inaccessible areas to hand cut fire breaks and fight fires. In such potentially dangerous situations it is good to know that there are controllers with a wealth of experience helping to guide operations.

But not any more – and not in this shire.

A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service staff member with over 20 years of experience says frontline firefighters are concerned for their safety following recent restructuring.

The staff member, who does not want to be named, said the reduction of senior incident controllers in the region from six to one may be putting lives and property at risk.

“We have to be able to trust each other with our lives, which doesn’t happen overnight,” NPWS staff said.

“When you’re on the end of a line, hanging out a helicopter, you want to know people have your back.

The source said three experienced controllers at Merimbula, one at Bombala and two at Narooma have now been reduced to just one, based at Narooma.

“When you start fiddling with a structure, which was never broken, it puts us all in danger. The major issue is an incident controller would normally have 20 to 30 years’ experience – we’ve lost a lot of really experienced staff,” the source said.

The Office of Environment and Heritage said the NPWS currently has “adequate resources” statewide to manage its fire responsibilities locally, and works alongside Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW RFS.