NSW Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib grilled over fire truck ‘held together’ with cable ties

The NSW Emergency Minister has been lashed after photos emerged of ageing fire trucks, including one Fire Rescue NSW (FRNSW) vehicle where cable ties have been used to keep the brake lights in place.

During budget estimates on Wednesday, NSW Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib faced fiery questioning from Nationals MP Wes Fang over reductions to funding.

Figures from the 2023-24 budget papers showed the government allocated $9995.9m in funding to FRNSW, which was $9m less than the agency’s spend in the previous financial year.

Mr Fang said the funding cuts had led to widespread maintenance issues, tabling a photo of a truck from the NSW’s Mid North Coast town of Woolgoola, where trucks were “held together” with cable ties.

In a photo tabled to the committee, two cable ties can be seen binding the brake light box, which is also used as a step, to the truck.

“Do you agree that the failure to budget for the actual spend in Fire and Rescue NSW has resulted in maintenance fleet issues?” he asked.

Firefighters in the Cabramatta station in western Sydney also noted a burning smell from the truck’s rear wheels which turned out to be a major brake defect. In a photo supplied to NCA NewsWire, the faulty truck can be seen being towed away.

Pictures also showed fed up crews in Revesby, in Sydney’s southwest, drawing a message of protest on a truck which read: “As ancient as the Nokia 3310”.

However, Mr Dib rejected the claims and said the Fire Rescue NSW ran a “massive fleet,” which meant maintenance issues were a reality.

The minister also said funding had increased from the year prior, with the agency overspending the allotted funding in 2022-23 figures because of one-off payments due to floods and natural disaster. Mr Dib said actual budget funding had actually increased by 15.5 per cent.

“What you’ve presented to me here is one photo of a cable tie on one of our many appliances. There is a plan with FRNSW,” said Mr Dib.

“It’s about a fleet replacement plan, and in that the prioritisation will be obviously for those that are in most need.”

Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU) NSW secretary Leighton Drury said ageing fleets were a widespread concern among firefighters. The lifespan of primary response trucks, which should not be operated beyond 15 years, were blowing out from their ideal average age of 10 years.

“As most people know, as machinery and appliances get older, it breaks down and requires more maintenance,” said Mr Drury.

“We saw last year that FRNSW had to make some tough decision in the money they received. They had to cut their pre-emptive scheduled maintenance nearly in half, so we’re obviously going to see more breakdowns and more maintenance.

The clash in estimates comes amid wage negotiations with the FBEU, after the award expired on February 25. The union will be pushing for a wage increase of 20 per cent over three years, however the government has yet to make an offer, increasing tensions.

“Firefighters have remained stagnant over the past decade, under the previous government, and it hasn’t kept up with the cost of living nor inflation, and NSW firefighters are rapidly going backward compared to other firefighters across Australia,” Mr Drury said.

“Firefighters have been on the front line of every major emergency of recent history, not just the Black Summer bushfires but also the multiple major flood events, the pandemic, cyclones, and even international incidents such as the Turkey earthquake.”

On Monday, eight fire tracks withdrew from active duty to park outside NSW parliament, with more than 30 firefighters walking off the job, with the union threatening further action if it doesn’t receive an offer by next week.

The union has threatened further action if it doesn’t get response by next week.

Opposition spokesperson for emergency services Gurmesh Singh said the minister needed to be providing more resources to the FRNSW.

“The NW community expects that the fire and rescue appliance are maintained to the highest level, and cable ties holding them together are simply not good enough,” he said.

“We’ve seen a cut to the FRNSW budget of about $9m based on what was spent in the last financial year, with ongoing salary negotiations with the FBEU, the government needs to invest more in FRNSW, to ensure community safety isn’t compromised.”

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