Shortage of firefighters hits coast

CFA can’t find staff to keep Ocean Grove fire station open. Bellarine Peninsula residents deserve better from their Fire Services Levy.

A year after career firefighters were recruited to bolster its efforts on the Bellarine Peninsula, the Ocean Grove CFA was forced to go without paid staff on Monday. CFA officials said the fire station was not closed, as volunteers were on call to attend incidents with support from professionals in Geelong. It’s understood the authority couldn’t reach the minimum staffing level of two officers and one leading officer to man the station, so sent the available workers into Geelong.

The United Firefighters Union said it was not the first time paid firefighters had been withdrawn from the Ocean Grove station in these circumstances, saying the shortage highlighted the need for more recruits across Victoria. The CFA says it has recruited an extra 181 career staff since 2011 and has four more recruit training courses scheduled this year, but the UFU argues it is falling well short of the Government’s commitment to employ 342 new officers by 2016.

Paid firefighters have been employed at Ocean Grove since July last year. They are supposed to be on duty from 7.45am to 6.15pm each weekday to respond to calls across the Bellarine Peninsula. Volunteers cover the remaining hours, although the station was upgraded in 2012 to potentially accommodate a full-time, around-the-clock professional workforce.

UFU spokesman Adam Matthews said there was little chance firefighting resources could be spread across more hours while the CFA was relying on staff doing overtime and still struggling to fill its existing shifts and commitments. “We have issues like this daily across Victoria,” he said.

“The fact the station had to close because of the lack of paid staff is a concern.”

But the CFA and State Government denied the station was closed, saying community safety was not compromised.

“The station reverted to its usual volunteer manning yesterday, supported by Geelong City station. Service delivery was maintained at all times,” the CFA’s spokesman said.

“Regardless of the mix of firefighters, CFA’s 1220 fire stations never close at least two brigades continue to respond to incidents and emergencies as they always have.”

A government spokesman said the union overlooked the efforts of volunteers. But Bellarine Labor MP Lisa Neville said the lack of paid staff increased pressure on volunteers.

“The volunteers do a fantastic job … but it is clear we do not have enough career firefighters across the region,” she said.

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