ACT News

United Firefighters Union voices safety concerns over offline firefighting vehicle

The ACT's emergency services boss has hosed down concerns voiced by the firefighters union that the public has been put at "unacceptable risk" with a critical piece of firefighting equipment used to battle blazes in tall buildings out of action.

United Firefighters Union ACT acting secretary Greg McConville​ said the ACT Emergency Services Agency's Bronto aerial firefighting platform – the only appliance that can reach fires in buildings above than seven storeys – was offline this week.

The union claimed there were 40 separate days on which ACT Fire and Rescue's $1.5 million Bronto had been in the workshop undergoing repairs or unavailable since the start of July last year.

Mr McConville said the problems highlighted the fact the ACT didn't have enough Brontos and needed at least two more to provide adequate fire cover for multi-storey buildings. 

"If you added together the populations of the Victorian regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, you would have a population about the size of the ACT. Those three towns together have four aerial appliances.

"The ACT has one and regularly it doesn't work."

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But ESA Commissioner Dominic Lane said one Bronto was "definitely sufficient" and he had not seen any reason the territory needed more at this stage

"It's very rarely actually needed to undertake its duty. It's great to have such a wonderful piece of equipment available to us, however it's a complex piece of machinery, it does require regular and important routine maintenance.

"That's an important part of operating a high level aerial appliance. With that comes time off the road."

If a fire broke out in a tall building while the Bronto wasn't available, Mr McConville said a fire pumper would instead be used in an attempt to extinguish the blaze from the ground.

"In the event that that didn't happen, there would be an unacceptable level of danger in our opinion," Mr McConville said.

"If another Bronto were to be deployed it would have to come from Liverpool in NSW – that's basically a three-hour drive. 

"You would not want to wait three hours for a response in a high-level burning building."

Mr Lane said no number of Bronto aerial appliances could guarantee people's safety and that was more dependent on high building standards and residents' fire safety evacuation plans in the event of a blaze. 

"The safety of the community will much better be reflected through the continued improvement in building and construction standards we continue to see here in Canberra," he said. 

"I think it's really unfortunate that the United Firefighters Union has taken this opportunity to come out and presume that Canberrans are at greater risk of fire. That's certainly not the case."

The union had raised a dispute with the ESA and ACT Fire and Rescue and would consider taking the matter to the industrial tribunal, Mr McConville said.

Mr Lane said he would welcome input from the union on how the urban fire service's capability could be boosted, but said any extra equipment like the Bronto would need to be justified given the high cost and low rate of use.  

The union voiced its concerns as ex-British fire chief Mark Jones on Thursday started as director of the ESA's strategic reform agenda, a major overhaul designed to slash duplication and boost efficiency.

Mr Lane previously said one of Mr Jones' key roles would be to consult extensively with the firefighting union

But the UFU voiced concerns about the appointment, given Mr Jones had overseen job cuts and significant changes in his previous role in Buckinghamshire, which had created a rocky relationship with the local fire union. 

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