Properties at risk as firefighters clash

Properties at risk as firefighters clash

09 July 2011

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USA — LIVES and properties are at risk because the state’s two fire-fighting agencies do not get along, insiders say.

The friction between the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and the Department of Environment and Conservation has become so bad that the firefighters’ union is calling on the WA Government to step in immediately.

Insiders claim the two agencies are consumed by “bravado and competition over whose badges are shiniest among the top bosses”, but the Government denies any feud.

The DEC is responsible for bushfires on the land it owns, such as national parks and state forests.

However, it is forced to hand over control of those bushfires to FESA once they become major incidents. Several government inquiries over the past few years have highlighted significant communication difficulties between the two agencies.

A recent review into the Perth Hills fires in February that destroyed 71 homes and the Lake Clifton fire in January that razed 10 homes found the DEC and FESA could not even agree on a common name for the blazes.

Meanwhile, there were doubts about the chain of command and the two agencies did not use a common mapping system.

United Firefighters Union WA secretary Graeme Geer said lives and properties were being jeopardised because the two agencies were constantly at each other’s throats.

“The Government needs to wake up and listen and get on top of this issue,” he said.

Several top DEC officials told The Sunday Times this week they were sick of clashing with their FESA counterparts.

A top regional manager claimed that FESA was obsessed with spin and only interested in protecting its image.

“If DEC hits a problem then FESA are the first to make comment on it and to criticise,” he said. “But if FESA is controlling a fire and 70-odd homes disappear then they try to spin their way out of it and convince the community they did a good job.”A senior FESA bushfire manager said his team simply did not trust the DEC to manage a fire.

“They attack the flanks of a fire instead of the head,” he said.

Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson said he formed the Interagency Bushfire Management Committee in 2010 to improve communications between FESA and the DEC.

Environment Minister Bill Marmion denied there were problems between FESA and the DEC.

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