Publicity envy puts the ire in fire

Publicity envy puts the ire in fire

19 August 2007

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JEALOUSY about the amount of media coverage volunteer bushfighters receive has led to the State Government’s National Parks and Wildlife Service ordering its firefighters to take their own publicity photographs during bushfire emergencies.

And anger among NPWS crews at the favourable publicity the NSW Rural Fire Service receives is so deep that they threatened to walk off the job after they were subjected to negative media reports.

The bickering is revealed in internal NPWS memos written by National Parks’ regional managers after the latest bushfire season.

They demanded NPWS bosses ensured its firefighters received media coverage along with the RFS. Senior officers were also concerned that when negative stories about NPWS firefighters were produced, management did nothing to counteract them.

“The RFS is excellent at managing the media … for themselves,” wrote Blue Mountains area manager Kim de Govrik.

“They have a very slick media unit which concentrates on highlighting the efforts of the RFS.”

Dubbo manager Stephen Wolter wrote that the NPWS “copped a hammering” in January after reports that RFS volunteers were hampered when bulldozing a firebreak in the Goonoo Conservation Area by NPWS workers worried about damage to vegetation.

“This had a big effect on crew morale in the first few days of the fire,” Mr Wolter wrote.

NPWS public affairs director John Dengate has since ordered, via memo, that its firefighters “at least once per major fire” send him a photo of the crew in uniform “studying a map on a car bonnet or checking a piece of equipment”.

The memos were obtained under freedom of information by Liberal MP Michael Richardson, who said: “NPWS regional managers were particularly damning of the then RFS commissioner Phil Koperberg for hogging the publicity during bushfires.”

“Over and again, NPWS officers said they stood shoulder to shoulder with bushfire volunteers … without getting so much as a line in a local newspaper.”

Environment Minister Phil Koperberg said he appreciates and supports the hard work carried out by all bushfire agencies including the NPWS, RFS, Forests NSW and the NSW Fire Brigades.

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