AS the bushfire season swings into action a group of Austinmer volunteers look set to sit-out another summer in an unsafe, outdated and cramped station due to bureaucratic red tape.
Austinmer Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been battling to relocate from their Buttenshaw Drive station, built in the 1970s, into larger premises for almost a decade.
Austinmer RFS captain, Gareth Fleming says a suitable piece of land, owned by Sydney Trains, was identified at Thirroul five years ago.
Mr Fleming said despite negotiation getting underway in 2016, State authorities and Wollongong City Council have not been able to manage the transfer of the land to allow a start on the new fire station.
Former Austinmer RFS captain, and now an RFS Illawarra Group Leader, Ross Leonard says Council and Sydney Trains are blaming each other for the delays.
“The latest is Transport NSW saying the next move is in the Council’s hands – now it seems it has all come down to how much money the council should pay the state authority,” Mr Leonard said.
Mr Fleming says the brigade’s fire truck barely fits into the Austinmer station, and one vehicle needs to be parked in the kitchen area.
“Uniforms get mouldy in wet weather and surplus equipment is stored in a shipping container,” he said.
“The upper level office and meeting room has been closed for safety reasons since January 2020.”
Membership of the brigade has swelled from 40 last year to currently 60, with an increasing numbers of female fire fighters joining the brigade.
“They serve as deputy captains, crew leaders, drivers and RFS trainers, but unfortunately, we have never had separate change rooms or toilet areas in the station,” Mr Fleming said.
“We are extremely proud that we are an all-inclusive brigade but lack of privacy can make some members uncomfortable when changing into and out of firefighting uniforms (Personal Protective Equipment – PPE) before or after an incident call.
“In fact, we must move trucks out for people to have room to change. This lack of privacy has been the cause of some female members leaving the brigade.”
State MP for Keira, Ryan Park has branded the delay in transferring ownership of the land to Wollongong City Council as “Bureaucratic BS”.
On a Facebook post, Mr Park described the situation as “farcical”.
“They need to relocate to a more suitable site,” he said.
“Land has been identified by Transport for NSW. It’s surplus land.
“Council will purchase, but the NSW Government wants to charge market rate even though it will be used by another State Government agency. This rubbish has been going on for to long.”
Mr Park has invited the NSW Transport Minister. Andrew Constance to intervene.
“I intend on fighting for the local volunteers at every step of the way until this nonsense is resolved satisfactorily,” he said.
In a statement, Wollongong City Council said it is working with the RFS District Executive and the local Austinmer RFS with regards to planning for a new facility.
“This working is progressing,” a spokesperson said.
A Sydney Trains spokesperson said it supports Council’s acquisition of the land for the creation of a new station.
“As Council is aware, this land is required to be acquired at ‘market value’ as per NSW Treasury’s guidelines for any land sale between government agencies and local governments,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
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