Call for ‘commonsense’ changes to fire management

Call for ‘commonsense’ changes to fire management

29 March 2010

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Australia —    Lawyers for the inquiry into Black Saturday have made a scathing assessment of the fire agencies’ previous approaches to managing bushfires and have urged the commissioners to recommend a series of changes.

The inquiry’s legal team has proposed the commissioners recommend it be made mandatory for the most experienced incident controllers to be in place by 10:00am on the morning of code-red days in high-risk areas.

The lawyers also recommended the establishment of a uniform accreditation program and a formal system to mentor incident controllers.

Counsel assisting the commission Rachel Doyle SC said some of the matters were so obvious that people would think they were a matter of common sense.

She noted the agencies had already established a much better system, but said it was “profoundly disappointing” it took a wake-up call like Black Saturday and the “sledgehammer” of a Royal Commission to make it happen.

Ms Doyle said it was no coincidence that the fires run by relatively inexperienced incident controllers were characterised by shortcomings in their management.

She said experienced leadership was essential to marshall resources, plot the path of the fire, warn the community and plan the response.

The inquiry heard that the Victorian Government argued level 3 incident controllers should be aimed for but not mandated.

Counsel assisting the commission Peter Rozen said the Country Fire Authority had failed to implement a formal mentoring system such that many incident controllers never received a mentor.

He said it was stretching the truth to refer to such arrangements as a system.

The commission’s legal team has proposed the commissioners recommend the establishment, in time for the next fire season, of a formal mentoring system with provisions for training and auditing mentors.

The inquiry heard the Victorian Government agreed with the proposal but said it would not be possible until the middle of next year.

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