18 April 2024

Delayed Acton Fire Station opening date announced but legal action looms with ACT firefighters

| Claire Fenwicke
Start the conversation
three men smiling in front of construction site

Acting Fire and Rescue chief officer Matthew Shonk, Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman and ACT ESA Commissioner Wayne Phillips are all smiles that construction is well underway for the Acton Fire Station. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Work is well and truly underway to build Acton’s new fire and paramedic station, which is expected to be operational by June next year.

However, the ACT Government’s alleged breach of its delivery date promise has led to Federal Court proceedings, and more could follow.

The United Firefighters Union ACT branch raised concerns in January 2023 that the sod hadn’t even been turned at the station’s future site. It had been promised as part of the 2020 enterprise bargaining agreement and was meant to be operational by the end of 2021.

Construction finally began in August 2023, and Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman on Tuesday (16 April) praised the work of everyone involved so far.

“The engineers have done a fantastic job in ensuring the safety of construction and the technicality of construction,” he said.

“The site was chosen for its quick response access to the City and to the areas of Molonglo, but if you have a look at the engineering work that has been done, it’s incredibly successful – while testing some of the skills, I think, of the engineers and the designers – we’ve seen a really good outcome.

“Just goes to show what you really can do when you put your mind to it.”

READ ALSO New temporary Visitor Centre opens doors at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

When challenged about the hold-ups, Mr Gentleman said the government had always been open about the delays.

“There have been some delays due to supply constraints and also COVID,” he said.

“It’s come up out of the ground since August last year, we’ll see completion in November and I’m very pleased with the work our engineers and construction company have been able to achieve so far.”

The all-electric site will be a place for ACT Fire and Rescue and ACT Ambulance Service personnel to rest between shifts, store vehicles, allow for emergency responses into the city and Molonglo areas, and provide support when needed to the Dickson and Ainslie stations.

The project will cost more than $40 million and be handed over to the Emergency Services Agency (ESA) for the commissioning process at the end of the year.

It’s expected to be operational by June 2025.

ACT ESA Commissioner Wayne Phillips said he was not only excited for staff and volunteers to use a “modern facility” but also that there would be reduced exposure to diesel particulates.

“As a former firefighter, the less exposure we have, the better it is, so to have our firefighters and paramedics safe where they rest between calls … is actually Australia-leading: no diesel particulates from EV fire trucks, modern extraction systems,” he said.

A voluntary health screening system for firefighters was another element agreed to as part of the 2020 EBA that has been delayed.

Commissioner Phillips said procurement for that service was in its final stages and expected to be ready by the end of the year.

“What we’ll have, very soon for our firefighters in the ACT, is health screening that’s voluntary, confidential, to give them the best advice for their own health,” he said.

“From that information … we’ll know the best way to look at our firefighters in the future and protect them from any health exposures.”

READ ALSO Court grants Project Coordination administrators more time

The UFU ACT isn’t impressed with the progress so far.

Secretary Greg McConville said it was with “some relief” that construction was finally underway but pointed out the engineering issues had been “apparent” when the site was selected.

He also said the delay to the health screening program hadn’t been “adequately explained” and the reasons given weren’t accepted by the union.

“In the past week, I have received notification of two new cancer cases among ACT firefighters,” Mr McConville said.

“Had early screening been introduced as was agreed, those two firefighters would have different lives today.”

Concerns have already been raised about delays to the Molonglo joint emergency services station, which was meant to be completed by December 2023, as agreed upon in the EBA.

Given the union is heading into negotiations again this year, Mr McConville said they would approach them “tempered by the bitter experience of previous negotiations”.

There’s also a legal challenge to consider.

“As for promises made that weren’t delivered, we are already in the Federal Circuit Court over alleged enterprise agreement breaches, and our Branch Committee has identified at least five further sets of potential litigation,” Mr McConville said.

“Of course, we will seek to settle those matters if possible. However, the Court can and does impose penalties for non-compliance with enterprise agreements.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.