Australia — VICTORIA’s new fire chief was in charge of South Australia’s rural fire service when it was slammed by the state coroner.
Euan Ferguson has been hired by the Country Fire Authority to replace embattled former chief Russell Rees after he resigned amid scathing criticism of his performance on Black Saturday, especially over the failure to warn communities and for failing to adequately warn people of a bushfire that killed nine people and destroyed almost 100 homes.
But Mr Ferguson was in charge of the Country Fire Service in 2007 when the deputy coroner Anthony Schapel found the CFS mismanaged the response to the fatal Black Tuesday fire in Port Lincoln and he withstood continued calls to resign.
Mr Schapel found the CFS failed to warn the public when the fire began and did not adequately respond to the fire, which started from a car exhaust spark.
“(The warnings) were mistimed and not particularly appropriate for the locations to which they were directed,” the coroner stated in December 2007.
“The community to the southeast and east of the fireground were unaware of the risk of the fire in many instances until it was too late.”
The coroner also found Mr Ferguson did not act on a “significant incident” pager message because he thought the State Incident Controller would have got it and it was the controller’s job to respond.
Mr Ferguson — who will start his role on November 15 — was also the subject of a performance review in 2008 that recommended he should be placed on a formal mentoring program and be subject to key performance indicators.
It found he had problems taking directions from government ministers, had a “self-promoting management style” and identified 25 areas that needed “considerable development”.
But Mr Ferguson told The Weekend Australian yesterday the coroner commended him for his leadership of the CFS, saying it was in “good hands”.
He said he had learned a lot from Black Tuesday, the coronial inquest and the process of implementing all the recommendations made.
Mr Ferguson — who previously worked for the CFA — said his experiences would make him best placed to implement all the changes made by the royal commission into Black Saturday.
“I see the experience I have had as an asset rather than a liability,” Mr Ferguson said. “I think the fact that I was still in the job in South Australia is testament to that.”
Premier John Brumby yesterday said Mr Ferguson was a “great asset” for the CFA. “Euan’s got a great record, he’s very well regarded by the volunteers,” he said. “He is a person who consults very widely and he understands fire issues, so I think he’s a great asset for the CFA.”