4 March 2019

Light rail emergency response could cost lives, says ACT firefighters union

| Lachlan Roberts
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The ACT UFU is calling for more firefighters per shift to navigate the POD vehicle. File photo.

The local firefighters union has criticised the ACT Fire and Rescue’s plan to respond to any emergencies on Canberra’s new light rail system, calling their response plan “flawed and ineffective”.

ACT Fire and Rescue have commissioned a platform on demand (POD) vehicle with specialist light rail rescue equipment, but the ACT firefighters union says they have failed to crew the truck with the two firefighters it requires to operate lights and sirens while travelling.

ACT United Firefighters Union (ACT UFU) branch secretary Greg McConville said only a single driver at the wheel means the emergency vehicle will only be permitted to travel at road speed with traffic, which could be the difference between life and death.

Mr McConville said with the new light rail system due to become operational next month, firefighters are deeply concerned the response plan could potentially cost lives.

“Urgent driving duty means lights and sirens. If a single driver puts on lights and sirens and drives very quickly, they can’t safely do that, operate the radio and navigate at the same time,” Mr McConville said.

“If you’re stuck under a light rail vehicle, it’s an awfully long time to wait and it will put additional pressure on the crews there to use whatever equipment they’ve got to try and get someone out while the proper equipment is being transported there.”

“It could make the difference between life and death.”

Mr McConville said other jurisdictions allocated an additional firefighter to similar POD trucks to ensure the emergency vehicle could deliver the equipment to where it was needed in the quickest possible time, along with specialist technical rescue vehicles, which are lacking in the ACT.

ACT UFU is calling for an additional three firefighters per shift to ensure there were always two operators for each of ACT Fire and Rescue’s POD transporters.

“We’re calling on the ACT Emergency Services Agency to, as in other jurisdictions, take the sensible, common sense approach and properly crew these vital emergency service vehicles so they can get to the scene and save lives,” Mr McConville said.

“A firefighter’s job is to save lives. It’s a job they take very seriously. But they can’t do that job if the equipment they need is stuck in a traffic jam because the ACT Emergency Services Agency refuses to provide adequate crew members.”

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