Australia– Victoria still lacks enough qualified fire chiefs to manage a major disaster such as Black Saturday.
A damning picture of the state’s preparedness emerged at the Bushfires Royal Commission yesterday, almost three weeks into this year’s official fire season.
A Country Fire Authority operations manager told the commission no more qualified personnel would be available to help firefighting efforts this season.
Graeme Armstrong, who was involved in managing the Kilmore East fire, said he had worked a 24 1/2-hour shift on February 7 and 8, and expected he might have to work similar hours this year.
Asked by Commissioner Susan Pascoe if the heavy workload was due to a shortage of qualified staff, Mr Armstrong replied: “Yes.”
“If we were to have a similar forecast this year, do you think that you’d be able to have more personnel available?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
Mr Armstrong said agencies needed to better manage staff hours to ensure there were enough experienced fire officers who could be called upon for the highest-risk days, now known as Code Red (catastrophic).
But he admitted that would be a “very, very difficult thing to try and achieve”.
The commission earlier heard that the state’s northeastern region lacked the personnel required to manage an emergency such as Black Saturday.
Fire chiefs were aware the region did not have enough adequately trained staff but had not asked for extra assistance, despite the horror forecast in the lead-up to Black Saturday.
The commission is this week investigating the causes and circumstances of the Kilmore East fire. Black Saturday’s deadliest, it killed more than 119 people at Kinglake, Strathewen, St Andrews and surrounding areas.
The CFA operations manager for the Kilmore region, Peter Creak, told the commission he had not asked for extra assistance because he was aware staffing resources were already stretched to the limit.
“We had our existing plans in place, which had served us well in the past, and we also had an awareness of the fact that the rest of the state would be confronted with the conditions that we were confronted with,” he said.
“I had a conversation on the sixth of February with somebody in the resources unit of the Incident Control Centre, seeking staff for the Incident Control Centre that was at Traralgon and also for the Incident Control Centre at Bunyip,” Mr Creak said.
“And the indication I got then was that there was very little capacity for the state to provide that support.”
The hearing into the fires, which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes, resumes today.