Australia — The boss of Western Australia’s Fire and Emergency Service Authority (FESA) has been sacked after a scathing report into February’s Perth Hills bushfire that destroyed 71 homes.
The report, handed down on Wednesday by Former Australian Federal Police chief Mick Keelty, showed the dysfunctional relationship between the state’s fire fighting agencies, Premier Colin Barnett said.
The report said FESA repeatedly failed to comply with the state’s emergency management plans during the fires and work co-operatively with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the volunteer fire fighters. Advertisement: Story continues below
Mr Keelty told reporters the institutional suspicion between the three fire-fighting agencies “needed to be fixed”.
A recommendation to bring FESA under government control and disband its board began on Wednesday with the immediate sacking of chief executive Jo Harrison-Ward.
Mr Barnett denied Ms Harrison-Ward was being made into a scapegoat but said there needed to be significant change within FESA, starting at the top.
“I think the report clearly demonstrates the dysfunctional nature of the relationship between FESA, DEC and volunteer fire fighters,” Mr Barnett told reporters.
The report highlighted a number of shortcoming by FESA management.
“The special inquiry finds that optimum co-ordination of available resources to fight Perth Hills of 5 and 6 February, 2011, was not provided because of a series of shortcomings on the part of senior FESA management to properly consult and co-ordination,” it report said.
Mr Keelty said FESA’s evidence to the inquiry had “attempted to cover up these shortcomings”.
The Keelty report found FESA did not explicitly declare the fire incident level, which meant agencies such as the WA police were not immediately made aware of the severity of the fire.
It also meant certain procedures were not put in place.
FESA also comes under fire for ignoring local pre-formed DEC fire-fighting teams and then calling on the assistance of the Victorian fire brigade without consulting with the DEC.
A submission by FESA to the inquiry initially said the request for assistance was done with the knowledge of the DEC.
However, FESA chief operating officer Craig Hynes later admitted to the inquiry there was no consultation before the request of assistance.
In accepting the report Mr Barnett said he was surprised by FESA’s lack of co-operation but said the government accepted some responsibility.
Following the report, the government will install a fire commissioner who will report directly to government to make clear who is in charge during a fire.
However, Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson took a different line.
“It’s not my responsibility, it’s the (FESA’s) board responsibility for the day to day running of the authority, that’s the problem,” Mr Johnson said.
“The problems in relation to FESA, I genuinely thought they were getting better.”
Opposition Leader Eric Ripper called for Mr Johnson’s head, saying that as the minister responsible for overseeing the state’s emergency services he should be sacked or resign.
“Any minister should be ashamed their department came out of a review looking like FESA did and any government that takes such matters seriously should be ashamed of such a minister,” Mr Ripper said.
FESA board deputy chair Bruce Brennan commended Ms Harrison-Ward’s leadership, saying the authority had undergone a “significant transformation” in recent years under her care.
FESA would work with the government and other emergency management agencies to address Mr Keelty’s recommendations.