Back to the drawing board on Ainslie Fire Station refurbishment plans
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Back to the drawing board on Ainslie Fire Station refurbishment plans

The Emergency Services Agency has to go back to the drawing board with plans for a $600,000 refurbishment of Ainslie Fire Station after a dispute with the United Firefighters Union over firefighter safety.

Fair Work Commissioner Nicholas Wilson has released a statement outlining an agreement reached between the agency and the union after two conciliation sessions.

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville, who said there were "serious issues" with the proposed designs for a refurbished Ainslie Fire Station.

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville, who said there were "serious issues" with the proposed designs for a refurbished Ainslie Fire Station.Credit:Karleen Minney

The parties have agreed to work together to develop a list of requirements for the Ainslie Fire Station refurbishment and any future construction or renovation of other fire stations in the ACT.

United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville said the union's grievances in the Ainslie Fire Station case centred on renovation proposals that would have resulted in a lack of separation between "clean" and "dirty" traffic areas.

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Mr McConville said the agency's proposed designs, with the engine bays in the middle of the fire station and recline and kitchen facilities on either side, meant firefighters would have to cross an area contaminated by the carcinogens brought back from callouts as they moved between clean areas, spreading contaminants across Ainslie Fire Station.

"The commissioner has released a statement that effectively says that we should really go back to the drawing board in relation to Ainslie," Mr McConville said.

"There are serious issues not addressed by the current plans that need to be addressed."

The initial plans for the Ainslie refurbishment also meant the fire station would have lost "drive-through" capacity, meaning fire trucks would have to be reversed into the engine bay across a footpath that carried pedestrian traffic to and from the adjacent Ainslie Football Club.

The Emergency Services Agency now required to undertake further design consultation, then seek input from the union and affected firefighters on the new plans.

"The further design considerations will be progressed on the basis that suitable solutions will be sought both in respect of the need for rear-entry and front-exit "drive-through" arrangements for firefighting appliances and the need for a solution to be found to the objective of separating 'clean' areas from 'dirty' areas," the Fair Work Commission statement says.

The agency and the union must report back to the Fair Work Commission on their progress by February 6 next year.

"The result [of the conciliation agreement] is that carcinogenic micro-particles which are brought back from jobs are able to be, to the extent possible, kept out of office, study and rest areas of the fire station," Mr McConville said.

"If government money is going to be spent on renovating a fire station, it has to be fit for purpose.

"A priority of ours in taking this [case] to the Fair Work Commission was to make sure that good money wasn't being thrown after bad."

ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown said further design work for the upgrade of Ainslie Fire Station would be undertaken "in the near future".

Mr Brown said the agreement to conduct more design work was unlikely to delay plans to replace firefighters with civilian call-takers at the Emergency Services Agency's communications centre.

The agency wants to move the firefighters currently taking triple-zero calls moving back to the frontline to form a new crew at Ainslie Fire Station.

"The outcome [of the Fair Work Commission case] does not delay the ComCen reform, a reform that will help improve ACT Fire and Rescue response times," Mr Brown said.

"The reformed ComCen could happen faster than the intended refurbishment of the Ainslie station."

Blake Foden is a reporter at the Sunday Canberra Times. He has worked as a journalist in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

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