ACT News

ESA boss still wants firefighters removed from ACT's triple-0 centre

The ACT's emergency services boss will forge ahead with a controversial push to remove firefighters from the territory's triple-0 call centre, a plan the firefighting union has blasted as potentially dangerous.

Significant changes have been proposed for the Emergency Services Agency's communications centre, or ComCen, after recommendations firefighters be replaced by civilian call takers under a major restructure.

Testing times: ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Dominic Lane at his Fairbairn headquarters.
Testing times: ACT Emergency Services Agency commissioner Dominic Lane at his Fairbairn headquarters. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The move has angered members of the United Firefighters Union, who have strongly resisted the change.

ACT Ambulance Service and ACT Fire and Rescue staff share the triple-0 call centre at the ESA's Fairbairn headquarters.

ESA Commissioner Dominic Lane has previously backed recommendations the services be streamlined and said on Thursday his position remained unchanged. 

"I don't believe there needs to be two communications centres in one room it should be one ComCen where triple-0 calls come to and are answered for the community. 

"It doesn't matter whether it's a storm, or a bushfire, or a medical emergency, or a house fire, one ComCen can do that work."

Mr Lane said he recognised the communications centre needed "some major changes" and plans to overhaul the service were a key element of the agency's strategic reform agenda, which aims to slash duplication. 

"This is about putting firefighters on the road, not having them just embedded in the ComCen," Mr Lane said.

"It's about making sure our communications centre reflects the demands of the community as well."

Mr Lane said the ESA had experienced a jump in demand for ambulance services while need for firefighting services had remained relatively stable. 

"Under this reform, it's certainly my view, it should move towards one ComCen in one room that covers all incidents and response to all emergencies that the ESA is responsible for.

"As part of that it is about changing our structure to go to professional call takers and dispatchers, rather than just using firefighters in our communications room."

The government previously commissioned a consultant to review the triple-0 centre, and its final report recommended a move to civilian call takers for ACT Fire and Rescue. 

UFU ACT branch secretary Greg McConville​ said that report was a "waste of money", and was riddled with errors, jumped to unjustified conclusions, and mischaracterised concerns raised by firefighters.

He said the government must walk away from the report, and described the plans as potentially dangerous. 

"We say that the community wants a communications centre, not a call centre," he said.

"It needs expert firefighters on the phone as the first response to emergencies, and that's not just fires, it's motor vehicle accidents, it's rescues."

The use of professional firefighters was necessary in the call centre, he said, because those on the phone needed to make complex operational decisions and juggle a range of different firefighting assets.

"The reality is the ACT fire service is unique. It has a mix of skills which is unparalleled in the country. That comes from the kind of place that the ACT is, where you have an urban-rural interface in pretty much every suburb.

"It means that the kind of incidents that are responded to require the exercise of the professional judgment of a firefighter to make the best use of resources."

Mr McConville said the consultation process over the reforms had stalled, and needed to be restarted. 

Mr Lane said the ESA would continue to consult with the union and seek feedback on the proposals to help determine what was best for the community. 

"I don't have any ultimate views on what the final ComCen should look like," he said. 

"I'm very strong on the fact we probably don't need 'recline', and that is people reclining at night in the ComCen.

"The ESA could use that room for other uses within our emergency management facility and that's one of the things we want to do."