A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service staff member with over 20 years of experience says frontline firefighters are concerned for their safety following recent restructuring.
The staff member, who does not want to be named, said the reduction of senior incident controllers in the region from six to one may be putting lives and properties at risk.
They said senior staff “have no faith” in, and no confidence in, new management, due to the loss of “too much experience” via the restructure.
“We have to be able to trust each other with our lives, which doesn’t happen overnight,” they said.
“When you’re on the end of a line, hanging out a helicopter, you want to know people have your back.
“If we had a fire tomorrow, with weather like last week, with extreme fire danger and other fires around the state, it will be very difficult to manage.”
The source said three experienced controllers at Merimbula, one at Bombala and two at Narooma have now been reduced to just one with little experience and limited local knowledge, based at Narooma.
“When you start fiddling with a structure, which was never broken, it puts us all in danger,” they said.
“The major issue is an incident controller would normally have 20 to 30 years’ experience – we’ve lost a lot of really experienced staff.
“The government wants to make money out of parks, that’s their bottom line.”
The Office of Environment and Heritage said the National Parks and Wildlife Service currently has “adequate resources” statewide to manage its fire responsibilities locally, and works alongside Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Rural Fire Service.
“NPWS has approximately 1100 trained firefighters, including specialist remote firefighters, and we are seeking to grow this number,” an OEH spokesperson said.
The NPWS staff member said they are concerned there is a “big culture shift” that will see the “RFS takeover” fire management.
“The controller could end up anywhere in the state if there’s fires,” they said.
Former Snowy Mountains National Park regional manager, and Snowy River Shire Council general manager Ross McKinney has accused the OEH of a “systematic dismantling” of the NPWS.
Mr McKinney said the changes are happening while the University of NSW and the Australian National University are saying more firefighters are needed on the ground in national parks.