National Red Balloon Day

 National Red Balloon Day took place on Sunday 28 February. The purpose of this is to honour and thank our brave and courageous firefighters. National Red Balloon Day is now in its third year. This event was inspired by a similar event held in Geelong, Victoria in early 2014 with the concept being simply to fly a "Thank You Fireys" red balloon from a person's letterbox, fence or window to let our firefighters know just how much we appreciate their dedication, hard work and tireless efforts in protecting our lives, our homes and our communities. National Red Balloon Day is celebrated on 28 February each year—the day that marks the official last day of Australian summer.

 This year I celebrated National Red Balloon Day by taking a big bunch of red "Thank You Fireys" balloons to Charlestown fire station. Often our firefighters, both professional and retained, leave their families, their homes and communities to help to protect our homes. They can be away for days on end and sometimes longer with their families at home hoping that these courageous men and women return to them safely. To become a firefighter is a gruelling and competitive process with thousands applying for only a handful of available positions each year. A firefighter's role has changed dramatically over the past decade.

Firefighters now need to deal with incidents that vary from tackling fires and rescuing people from burning buildings to cleaning up toxic chemical spills and attending tragic and horrific car accidents. Their efforts are not just confined to local incidents. Firefighters from the NSW Urban Search and Rescue team have attended major national and international incidents including the Thredbo landslide, the Japanese nuclear plant accident and the Christchurch earthquake. Firefighters need to be compassionate, kind and sympathetic as they deal with members of the public who can be very distressed by the tragic scenarios they are facing.

The firefighters at Charlestown fire station work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year to ensure the safety of the people in my electorate. They do an outstanding job, but the conditions of their worksite do not reflect their efforts. The past 30 years have seen the most technological advances in human history. Firefighting appliances, equipment, training and knowledge have kept pace with these advances but the Charlestown fire station has not.

When I visited Charlestown fire station and spoke with the firefighters I was extremely impressed by their passion for their work but deeply disappointed by the building they were working in. The building that Charlestown firefighters operate from is outdated and not functional for today's firefighting requirements. There are a range of maintenance problems, including a leaking roof and the infiltration of rainwater that requires buckets to be placed around the station during wet weather. In addition, the station layout is not conducive to emergency responses where time is so much of the essence. Firefighters need facilities that allow them to respond quickly, giving them more time to rescue people and save property by suppressing blazes in their early stages.

How are the Charlestown firefighters expected to respond to emergencies 24 hours a day when the facilities they are forced to work in and the equipment they are forced to work with are inadequate? As the quality of the facilities continues to decline it will become increasingly difficult for them to work effectively and respond quickly to emergencies. New facilities are essential to enhance the effectiveness of our firefighters and reduce the time it takes to respond to emergency calls and dispatch fire crews. For the work they do they deserve the best. I will be lobbying the Minister for Emergency Services to commit to an upgrade of Charlestown fire station. I am thankful for the time that the Charlestown firefighters spent with me on National Red Balloon Day explaining the issues they face on an ongoing basis and when dealing with emergencies. I thank all firefighters who have fought hard to protect life and property in the Charlestown electorate.