We could have saved bushfire lives, frustrated MFB member says

We could have saved bushfire lives, frustrated MFB member says

20 February 2009

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — The death toll from Victoria’s bushfires could have been reduced if city firefighters were allowed to help fight fires, a Metropolitan Fire Brigade firefighter said.

The MFB firefighter, who did not want to be named, said a majority of city firefighters were “very frustrated” with the poor management and utilisation of available resources.

“We were brought back off shift to sit around at the station in preparation for going and we never actually went. A few people did, and even when they went up they were told, the CFA told us we weren’t wanted,” the firefighter told The Age.

“We reckon we could have saved some of the houses and maybe that would have meant the death toll would of been a bit lower if we had been put on the ground straight away. This is what we do for living, we’re not volunteers, this is what we’re trained for.”

The MFB firefighter said on the first day of the tragic bushfires metropolitan firefighters were ordered to stay on shift and wait.

“All we want to do is help people out, but it’s very frustrating sitting there at our fire stations just waiting for something to never happen,” he said.

“You’ve got a whole shift, so you’re talking about every fire station in Melbourne having enough people to man…we’re talking a lot of firefighters that could have gone up there,” he said.

The firefighter said that as well as firefighters, there were at least 10 spare fire trucks available for use.

“We realise we have to maintain fire coverage in Melbourne and we can’t leave Melbourne exposed, but at the same time we’ve got all these spare trucks and all these people willing to go up. They could have sent us all up there without our vehicles and we could have relieved the CFA guys doing shift changes,” he said.

“They’ve brought in interstate firefighters and we’re sitting less than an hour away.”

A Victoria Police officer said firefighters are not the only ones frustrated with the way management has handled the bushfire crises.

The serving officer who did want to be named said Victorian police had also volunteered to assist in various duties including traffic management and other tasks but were told they could not go.

Yesterday, 150 NSW volunteer police arrived in Melbourne to assist in the bushfire affected areas.

Deputy Chief Officer Steven Warrington denies the firefighters were sent away or not used.

“On the day of the fires, we asked, and got, from MFB a number of strike teams to do asset protection and we understand that was their expertise, and indeed, we used some CFA teams to do the same thing,” Mr Warrington said on Radio 3AW.

“Since that time, we have used MFB and CFA career staff in a number of areas.”

Mr Warrington said the MFB’s role is for back filling CFA stations.

“We did bring them in as much as we could. MFB released as many trucks, according to them, as they possibly could on that day, and we used them and we put them into towns,” Mr Warrington said.

“We have, and we will, continue to use the MFB as much as the MFB are able to release to support us,” Mr Warrington said on Radio 3AW.

However, United Firefighters Union Secretary Peter Marshall said there was a different reality.

“The reality is the fire officers, the ones who matter the most, the ones who are charged with protecting the community are saying `yes’ my services were not utilised, or alternatively, my services and equipment were not utilised for their full protection,” Mr Marshall said on Radio 3AW.

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