Volunteer fireys set for State control
Moves to bring most of the region’s volunteer firefighters under direct State Government control look likely to go ahead.
Last month, Shire of AugustaMargaret River councillors called for more consultation when they deferred an officer request to advance a Department of Fire and Emergency Services restructure putting the State agency in charge of all firefighting personnel.
Although some volunteers previously voiced concerns DFES brigades gave insufficient credence to local expertise during major incidents such as the 2011 Margaret River bushfires, structural changes seeing volunteers also working as “dual-use” brigades in the region were causing headaches.
Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade requested the restructure to reduce confusion and streamline operations.
Shire councillor and veteran firefighter Ian Earl moved the deferral because he wanted a firm memorandum of understanding on the new structure.
When the idea was floated more than two years ago, DFES hosed down talk it would reduce the independence of volunteers after an outcry from WA’s Association of Volunteer Bushfire Brigades who criticised the “deeply flawed” process and said unpaid personnel should not be directed by professional staff.
An independent rural bushfire service was recommended by a major bushfire inquiry, but the service would now be a subdivision of the DFES structure.
Confusingly, the Shire’s October 10 report said the rural fire division “has no direct link with the transition of local government bushfire brigades to DFES”.
In a letter from Wallcliffe VBB, it was noted local brigades were more often operating as volunteer fire and emergency services under DFES already, but faced double the reporting, insurance and logistical requirements, putting additional pressure on unpaid volunteers.
“The brigade with its six appliances, 65 active firefighters and 13 auxiliary members has an asset value of approximately $2.5 million,” Captain Rob Barnett wrote.
“We feel that a restructure of our brigade would better reflect our community’s expectations as to what they want from the increasing money they pay via the Emergency Services Levy for their local fire brigade.”
Firefighters were increasingly operating in DFES-gazetted fire districts, and the restructure would simplify procedures for volunteers, he said.
Witchcliffe and Cowaramup brigades faced the same challenges, the report noted.
The report by Shire community emergency services manager Chris Lloyd said ideally all brigades would “transition” at the same time.
Until an agreement was settled, the Shire was unable to estimate cost savings from the restructure.
“It was identified that the benefits of having a centralised Volunteer Emergency Services structure appears to be a great model which improves the level of support to the volunteer brigades ultimately improving efficiency in response,” Mr Lloyd said. “It is understood that opportunities have been made available to volunteers which were never available while under management of the local government (access to additional training, career opportunities and dress uniforms were noted).”
Cr Earl told the Times March was the earliest any change could happen and it would not affect how brigades defended the region.