Firefighting bungle wastes millions

Firefighting bungle wastes millions

07 January 2012

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Australia — BUREAUCRATIC bungling has led to 160 firefighting vehicles being off the road with faults for two years, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and hindering Victoria’s capacity to fight bushfires.

To cut costs, the Department of Sustainability and Environment leased Nissan Patrol utilities that were unsuitable.

They are now banned from the rough bushland where the department is responsible for fighting fires.

The State Government is refusing to reveal how much money has been wasted on the useless vehicles.

The cost would include that of trying to “retrofit” the utes so they are robust enough to carry water tanks and firefighting equipment off-road.

The department has finally conceded defeat, and is preparing to offload the utes.

DSE general manager Tony Edgar yesterday confirmed the bungle, but said some older vehicles had been kept in service to cover gaps and ensure the department had 350 vehicles capable of carrying water for fires.

He said DSE had identified a problem with tyres rubbing on the chassis of some of the Nissans when they carried water tanks.

But he denied DSE’s ability to respond to fires had been compromised.

“DSE has retained additional vehicles to cover any operational issue while this matter is resolved,” he said.

About 50 Nissans will be used for limited purposes, but their use in four-wheel-drive mode or in fires has been banned.

For almost two years, the DSE kept the utes out of service as it tried to overcome a series of problems.

It fitted more heavy-duty clutches; then it replaced all the rear wheels; later, it inserted rubber blocks to boost struggling suspensions; and finally, it promised to take all the utes out of service by the start of the next fire season.

Australian Workers Union organiser John-Paul Blandthorn said DSE had bought “rubbish vehicles”.

“They know they probably made a considerable stuff-up,” he said.

“When you go to procure a new instrument you (should) look at whether it fits the criteria before you look at the bottom line.”

Nissan’s Jeff Fisher said DSE had leased vehicles unsuited to firefighting.

“The department would have had their reasons for buying the Patrol cab chassis at the time, and we are not aware of exactly what their specifications were for that purchase,” he said.

“The technical specifications are clear for everyone in terms of load-carrying capacity and their ability to tow. Apart from that, it is their call.”

A government spokeswoman said the cost of the failed deal and refitting was confidential.

“This sorry tale demonstrates a failure of the former Labor government. The department has given us assurances … this will not impact upon their ability to fight fires,” she said.

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