Fire crews in Victoria are increasingly arriving at emergencies with fewer staff than required, sparking alarm over public safety risks.
The crisis of undermanning comes at a time when Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) is already battling high rates of absenteeism, partly due to vaccine mandates and other factors such as low morale and fatigue among the workforce.
Whistleblowers have revealed to the media that FRV is frequently cutting back on the usual four-person crews on primary operational vehicles, opting for three firefighters to sustain operability.
"This is a clear public safety threat," stated an insider source, who also noted that ongoing vaccine mandates have left several firefighters off-duty.
In addition to this, issues such as illness and demoralisation within the service have been cited as contributing factors.
This lack of staff has led to escalating overtime costs, exceeding $95 million in the last financial year.
The FRV also disclosed a $132.5 million budget deficit last year and failed to meet government performance indicators for attending fires.
A spokesperson for FRV admitted that they have occasionally violated minimum crew requirements due to the limited availability of staff but assured that each station maintains adequate resources to protect the community.
They also claimed that vaccination mandates have not significantly impacted their operations.
"The vaccination status of an extremely small proportion of our operational workforce has a negligible impact on FRV’s crewing numbers," the spokesperson said.
The staffing challenges at FRV come on the heels of a recent call from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) for urgent volunteer support amid dwindling numbers.
A government representative assured that community safety has not been compromised.