Published: 30 April 2021

Upper house MPs have thrown their support behind firefighters seeking funding support from lower house candidates standing in this Saturday's election.

Following a series of incidents requiring career firefighting crews in the Devonport area in recent weeks, North-West independent MLCs Ruth Forrest and Mike Gaffney have said better resourcing is needed.

The United Firefighters Union has been vocal throughout the lower house election campaign, calling on candidates to commit to providing funding for two new full time firefighting crews in the North-West.

The union is seeking 42 new firefighters for an extra crew each in Devonport and Burnie plus ten additional to ensure coverage of sick and annual leave, worth about $4.5 million annually.

During The Advocate leaders' debate on Tuesday, Labor leader Rebecca White confirmed that if elected her party would provide the requested funding.

Liberal leader Peter Gutwein said his government has and will continue to rely on the advice of the Tasmania Fire Service and the State Fire Commission, which he said have not recommended what the UFU is seeking.

"I don't think politicians should be determining where people are placed," Mr Gutwein said.

"That should be the responsibility of those that are experts in the field and the TFS and the State Fire Commission, my understanding is, haven't recommended that... so we will continue to rely on their advice.

Ms White shot back that she "would argue firefighters are experts in their field and they're the ones who have asked for this".

Devonport firefighters last week wrote to emergency services minister Mark Shelton over recent comments in the media that the region's volunteer firefighters could provide coverage when career resources were stretched.

They said the current model, of being able to call upon volunteer firefighters and other career crews to bridge gaps, was "no longer working" and that it was a "matter of luck that more dire outcomes have not resulted at this stage".

"The only reason its' working at all is out of the good will of the career firefighters that are willing to come in on a recall while off duty to ensure coverage for the city and the safety of our co-workers," they wrote.

Following further gaps in coverage in Devonport this week, both Ms Forrest and Mr Gaffney said they supported the resourcing the union is calling for.

Mr Gaffney said the incidents reinforce "the call from the UFU for increased crewing, particularly for the Mersey region.

"With an increase in population and infrastructure at this end of the coast, it is necessary for emergency services to be well resourced and supported," he said.

Ms Forrest said that due to the demographics and housing stock in the North-West residents are at a greater risk of house fire, and the resourcing should reflect that.

"An effective fire service is right to utilise volunteers but should not rely on them to ensure an adequate service level," she said.

"What I hear from all involved, career firefighters and our highly valued volunteers, is the need for more human and other resources, including for the SES."

The Advocate, Friday 30 April 2021


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