WA Premier Colin Barnett releases Ferguson report into Waroona-Yarloop bushfires


WA Premier Colin Barnett releases Ferguson report into Waroona-Yarloop bushfires

23 June 2016

published bywww.perthnow.com.au


Australia–  The system for managing bushfires in WA is “failing citizens and the government”, a special inquiry into the deadly Yarloop and Waroona blazes has concluded.

Euan Ferguson, who was appointed to conduct the review of January’s devastating fires, recommends the State Government create a Rural Fire Service.

The former Victorian Country Fire Service chief said the fire needed to be a catalyst for improvements to “strengthen community safety and fire agency capability”.

And he warned that if change does not occur, “then the prospect of a future catastrophic bushfire event is increasingly likely”.

Mr Ferguson said people generally acted in “good faith” despite the fire being “one of the most complex bushfires I’ve ever seen”.

He said the incident management team “did their best” when faced with an “impossible” situation.

There were 165 written submissions lodged to the two-volume report, 17 findings and 40 recommendations.

Mr Ferguson said the initial response to the attack was “reasonable”, however the incident management team “missed cues” to raise the alert to a level 3 incident management.

It was also found there was a failure to issue specific warnings to the community at Yarloop and Cookanup when the fire was critical.

The four most critical issues Mr Ferguson raised were:

— Management of vehicle control points.

— Fuel and fuel load management both on public and private lands.

— Incident management and the systems employed to organise and fight fire.

— Efficiency and effectiveness by which firefighters used resources to fight the fire.

He said the recommendations would “reframe rural fire management in WA “for the benefit of the community and for Bush Fire Brigade volunteers”.

“There is a strong argument that the state needs to readjust expenditure away from fire response and recovery, towards a greater investment in prevention and fuel hazard management,” he said.

“This includes investing more in the education, resilience and readiness of local communities and individual citizens.

“Many of the recommendations of this Special Inquiry will enable this shift in focus, and the creation of a rural fire service in particular, is vital to doing so.

“The momentum must be maintained into the future. If such change does not occur, then the prospect of a future catastrophic bushfire event is increasingly likely.”

Premier Colin Barnett, joined by Liberal MP Murray Cowper and Mr Ferguson, opened the meeting by expressing his sympathy on behalf of the Government to residents who had suffered losses in the Yarloop and Waroona fires.

At least 250 residents from the South West filed into the Murray Leisure Centre to hear the findings of the Ferguson report on Thursday morning.

Mr Barnett said it was a “stark, warts and all” report.

“You’ll see it as a very frank, very honest report,” Mr Barnett said.

“Nothing is hidden, nothing is glossed over. It was described as it was, as it is.”

Mr Barnett said the most of the recommendations in the report were primarily “operational matters”.

“It also makes some longer term recommendations about the structure of fire services in Western Australia,” he said.

“We’re not prejudging it, we want to hear what is said today, what the reaction to it is.

“It’s a stark, warts and all report.”

The historic timber town of Yarloop was almost wiped out in the firestorm, which destroyed 181 properties, including 162 houses and the heritage-listed workshops and hospital.

Yarloop men Malcolm Taylor, 73 and Vietnam veteran Les Taylor, 77, were killed in their homes.

Mr Ferguson said he acknowledged some members of the community were still reeling from the devastating loss of Yarloop.

“I acknowledge the pain of your loss is still being felt,” he said.

“I know people who are still being impacted … They are dislocated from their home.”

He paused to remember Yarloop residents Les and Malcolm Taylor, who lost their lives in their fire.

Mr Ferguson said it was important to recognise there had been significant reformation in recent years regarding Department of Fire and emergency services in WA.

“At the outset I did not seek to cast blame. This is a very complex and unforgiving business that we become involved in with bushfire management, he said.

The bushfires were sparked by lightning on January 6 in Lane Poole reserve.

At the time, Yarloop residents criticised the Department of Fire and Emergency Services over a lack of communication about the severity of the threat.

Some residents claimed they did not receive an emergency SMS until it was too late while others said they were never doorknocked by police.

Mr Ferguson report makes 17 recommendations for strategic change and 23 agency opportunities for improvement. He said the recommendations would “reframe rural fire management in WA “for the benefit of the community and for Bush Fire Brigade volunteers”.

“There is a strong argument that the state needs to readjust expenditure away from fire response and recovery, towards a greater investment in prevention and fuel hazard management,” he said.

“This includes investing more in the education, resilience and readiness of local communities and individual citizens.

“Many of the recommendations of this Special Inquiry will enable this shift in focus, and the creation of a rural fire service in particular, is vital to doing so.

“The momentum must be maintained into the future. If such change does not occur, then the prospect of a future catastrophic bushfire event is increasingly likely.”

NSW, Victoria and South Australia have specialist bodies to handle bushfire management outside the metropolitan area.

Volunteer firefighters back rural fire service

Bushfire volunteers have embraced the recommendation of a rural fire service, but argue it should to be separate from DFES.

State President for the Volunteer Bushfire Brigades Dave Gossage said if implemented, the recommendations would give local bushfire volunteers their voices back.

“Looking at the initial findings it’s certainly a positive step in the right direction,” Mr Gossage said.

“It’s good that the report has actually listened to communities and more importantly for volunteers, the report is reflective of certainly the general direction of what volunteers would like to see.

“It’s something that’s been lost over the last decade and it’ll be good to see if what is indicated in the report is actually fulfilled, then volunteers will get their voice back and the community will have a say again.”

Mr Gossage said the loss of “community resilience” and firefighting capacity had become a growing concern over recent years.

He said the report had identified the “systematic breakdown” and disconnect between communities and overall fire management.

“There’s a very clear and strong message here about prevention, preparedness and putting the appropriate funding and resources, and more importantly getting the resources down to the ground and stop building the bureaucracy at the top,” he said.

“Let’s build it up from the ground, re-empower the community and let’s get our communities back to where they used to be in a safe and sustainable way.

“It’s not rocket science for every dollar you spend in prevention and preparedness you’re going to save nine or ten times that come response.”

The establishment of an independent rural fire service remains the only way bushfire volunteers will see “real, on the ground change”, according to Mr Gossage.

“Why would we want to go under a system that’s there now … it needs to be separated, it needs to be clearly independent of DFES and embracing local communities and local volunteers and giving them their voice back.”


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