Home Fire News Airport firefighters in Australia facing long shifts, disgraceful rest conditions

Airport firefighters in Australia facing long shifts, disgraceful rest conditions

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There was great fanfare when Canberra Australia welcomed its first international flights in 2016, but conditions behind the scenes for the airport’s on-station firefighters are far less glamorous.

According to a report from 7News Sydney, reporter Olivia Leeming said firefighters are being forced to sleep in airport equipment rooms, next to noisy copy machines and even in the ladies restroom between their 18-hour shifts.

“This is totally unreasonable, it’s not proper and appropriate circumstances for rest and recline,” said Henry Lawrence from Australia’s United Firefighter’s Union.

“Our members are forced to rest in the ladies toilet area, breathing apparatus maintenance room, printer room and the station gym. Obviously this is unacceptable.” Lawrence wrote in a letter seen by Fairfax Media.

Another bed is set up in an office next to a printer. Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald
Another bed is set up in an office next to a printer. Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald

The union called on the government to help provide appropriate rest areas so first responders can safely perform their duties. In a letter to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, the United Firefighters Union described the “unacceptable” conditions.

“Our aviation rescue fire fighters play a valuable role in ensuring the safety of the travelling public, and it’s important they have the appropriate resources and facilities to deliver this service,” Chester said.

Airservices Australia, the government entity responsible for the station, said it is working to upgrade the facilities.

“Airservices Australia is currently working with the Capital Airport Group as part of a project designed to upgrade our station at the airport to allow us to better deliver our valuable safety service to the aviation industry,” a spokeswoman said.

“The station upgrade project includes improved rest areas for our firefighters and an expanded fire vehicle engine bay.”

A new fire station with proper dormitories was promised in 2016, but it is not ready.

“In the interim, while we continue to work with Capital Airport Group to move forward with the station upgrade, we have been in discussions with them on appropriate permanent and temporary arrangements, which would allow us to meet regulatory requirements,” the spokeswoman said.

The Capital Airport group has offered the use of bungalows near the old guard house for firefighters wishing to rest during or between their shifts, but according to the 7News report, firefighters say the bungalows’ distance from the airfield …  about 1.5 kilometers … makes it’s almost impossible to respond to an emergency within the required three minutes.

Qatar airways is scheduled to begin flying between Canberra and Doha within the next 12 months. If the new fire station and dormitories are not ready, the increased air traffic is expected to put more pressure on firefighters already in need of a good night’s rest.

Although Minister Chester is supportive of the Union’s position, the government has yet to intervene or offer a reasonable course of action.

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