Faulty fire system ‘puts lives at risk
State Political Correspondent for The Age
Lives are at risk because of a breakdown in the Metropolitan Fire Brigades’ dispatch system, the firefighters’ union has warned.
Last week, a problem with the state’s Firecom communications system emerged, with the system failing to respond to emergency calls from Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority. In some cases, the union says, dispatch requests were not going to fire stations.
Firecom works in unison with ESTA by triggering alarms at the relevant fire station and providing detail information and maps to firefighters about the incident.
But the problem is that not all dispatches are being received and the MFB is requiring dispatchers to call stations to ensure that the alarms are being received.
The United Firefighters Union says that it has resulted in some calls not being attended to, and delayed responses to other calls.
UFU national secretary Peter Marshall said the Firecom system had been reliable for decades due to constant upgrades. But people with the technological know-how no longer worked for the MFB and the upgrades had stopped. The system not only triggers the dispatch but also tells firefighters what type of incident they are attending.
”This could cost someone’s life. You only have 7.7 minutes to maximise potential for rescuing someone who is caught in a fire and also to minimise damage to a structure,” Mr Marshall said. ”The MFB has tried to downplay the issue. It’s a critical situation, firefighters are now unsure of its reliability. Any compromise of the Firecom system could result in delay that could result in the loss of life or property.”
A MFB spokeswoman said lives were not at risk and that the problem was being addressed, with the phone back-up system currently working. ”We are continuing to meet turnout times and at no time has firefighter or community safety been compromised,” she said.
The union has blamed the deterioration of the system on $25 million worth of cuts in last year’s budget.
The UFU and MFB are at the beginning of what is expected to be a turbulent new pay negotiation period.
Mr Marshall is seeking a meeting with Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells.
A government spokeswoman said: ”Mr Marshall severely undermined his validity earlier this month with false claims about CFA budget cuts, when the Coalition actually boosted the CFA budget another $30 million.”
Shadow parliamentary secretary for justice Jane Garrett said Mr Wells seemed ”more focused on picking fights with hard-working firefighters and their union instead of ensuring proper funding for the critical communications infrastructure that keeps Victorians safe”.
Internal emails seen by The Age say that management and the team leaders are not confident that the stations are ”being responded in a timely manner to all calls”.