Australia — THE Country Fire Authority’s new chief officer says getting Victorians to realise that sometimes it is not safe to stay in their homes during a bushfire will be one of his toughest challenges.
The CFA today announced Euan Ferguson would take up the top job on November 15, in time for the coming bushfire season.
He said the fundamentals of the stay or go policy were sound but people needed to learn that in some situations it was not safe to stay in their homes.
“This is one of the major challenges facing rural fire services and urban fire services across the land,” he said.
There has been a mixed response to his appointment among CFA volunteers, with some lauding his good reputation and others accusing him of treating volunteers with contempt.
Mr Ferguson is currently the South Australian Country Fire Service chief executive and chief officer, and spent eight years working for the CFA in several roles including acting chief officer and deputy chief officer.
He said he wants to personally select key players during large fires and formally delegate command of major fires to a level three incident controller.
“For the last three or four years, I personally signed off on the selection of the level three controllers and the key team members,” he said.
“Also … when a major incident occurs, I formally delegate command of that fire to a level three incident controller.
“In doing that it sets up a very direct relationship between the chief officer and the level three incident controller.”
Mr Ferguson wants CFA members to undertake a mandatory bushfire survival exercise before every fire season.
“Every year, from the chief officer right down to an apprentice firefighter, each individual is required to undertake a burnover drill to demonstrate that they know how to wear their protective clothing,” he said.
“That’s the sort of thing which is a little bit different about Euan Ferguson, it’s probably a little bit more hands-on and I’ll be bringing those sorts of ideas to Victoria.”
CFA Morwell group officer Lou Sigmund was highly critical of Mr Ferguson’s attitudes towards volunteers during his previous stint with the organisation.
“Euan Ferguson was not known for liking volunteers,” Mr Sigmund said.
“We were just … a wart on the backside of the CFA.
“There were a lot of complaints about him, about his attitude towards volunteers and what he said to them.”
But CFA Arthurs Creek captain David McGahy said Mr Ferguson had a very good reputation.
“The word around the brigades is that he is a very capable person … and I think he has run the South Australian thing fairly well.”
Mr Ferguson said Mr Sigmund was entitled to his views but he had already received phone calls from four Gippsland CFA volunteers expressing their support.
“I guess that sets a challenge for me to set out and prove him (Mr Sigmund) wrong,” he said.
“I want to bring a commitment to engagement … ensuring that volunteers are consulted on fire service decisions which might affect them.
“I think that’s a really important fundamental of management in a volunteer-based fire service.”
Department of Sustainability and Environment chief fire officer Ewan Waller said Mr Ferguson was highly respected for his experience in fire response and knowledge of land and fire management.