Fire­fight­ers un­der pres­sure

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Front Page - Warren Hately

Vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers are fac­ing ever-in­creas­ing work­loads, with the re­gion’s brigades fresh from a month of hec­tic ac­tion which in­cluded hos­ing down es­caped pri­vate burn-offs and a re­lief mis­sion to Al­bany while try­ing to re­duce lo­cal fuel loads.

Brigades were un­der pres­sure last week as strong winds turned some con­trolled burns into emer- gen­cies, with a wor­ry­ing num­ber of es­caped fires blamed on ab­sen­tee landown­ers who left the re­gion with­out mon­i­tor­ing their burnoffs.

Stretched brigades were also dili­gently try­ing to meet Shire fu­elre­duc­tion tar­gets. Some fireys voiced pri­vate con­cerns at mount­ing ex­pec­ta­tions on the vol­un­teer work­force and the work­load po­ten­tially dis­cour­ag­ing new re­cruits.

Dur­ing a coun­cil brief­ing last week, Shire com­mu­nity emer­gency ser­vices co-or­di­na­tor Chris Lloyd said vol­un­teers help­ing meet tar­gets was “a chal­lenge we’re go­ing to have to work through”.

The Shire’s re­cently up­dated Bush­fire Risk Man­age­ment Plan has found 32 per cent of 9500 as­sets in the re­gion were classed as “very high” bush­fire risks and 12 per cent were rated “ex­treme”.

“Nearly half of the as­sets in our shire is at high or very high risk of bush­fire,” Mr Lloyd said, not­ing the statis­tics were “alarm­ing”.

Cowaramup had now over­taken Au­gusta in terms of growth, and fuel mit­i­ga­tion was es­sen­tial, he said. Shire coun­cil­lor and Cowaramup Vol­un­teer Bush­fire Bri­gade fire con­trol of­fi­cer Ian Earl ac­knowl­edged vol­un­teers were un­der pres­sure, and thanked em­ploy­ers help­ing sup­port mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts by al­low­ing staff time to re­spond to emer­gen­cies.

Al­though he de­fended the burn­ing sched­ule — say­ing last week “we’re fall­ing a year be­hind (sched­ule) ev­ery year” — Cr Earl said the Shire would even­tu­ally have to find a bet­ter so­lu­tion than reliance on a vol­un­teer work­force.

“The vol­un­teers are prob­a­bly happy enough pro­vid­ing re­sponse for most of the burn-offs that are go­ing on, but when there’s all th­ese

es­caped burns, it’s get­ting silly,” he told the Times. Re­spond­ing to ques­tions about re­gional vol­un­teers car­ry­ing out un­paid work, Emer­gency Ser­vices Min­is­ter Fran Lo­gan said vol­un­teers were not “ex­pected” to carry out mit­i­ga­tion.

“They are vol­un­teers, but if they have the time needed, and want to take part to help com­mu­nity safety or for train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, then they would be warmly wel­comed,” he said.

“I would ex­pect that lo­cal gov­ern­ments work closely with their bush­fire brigades on their mit­i­ga­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.” Should re­gional vol­un­teers be paid for mit­i­ga­tion work? Send let­ters to edi­tor@am­r­

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