Vol­un­teer fireys set for State con­trol

Augusta Margaret River Times - - News - War­ren Hately Wall­cliffe Vol­un­teer Bush­fire Brigade is seek­ing a re­view of man­age­ment struc­tures to stream­line lo­gis­tics and fu­ture op­er­a­tions.

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.

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