Australia–– The Department of Environment’s ability to fight major bushfires could be compromised this bushfire season because of a lack of firefighters. A year on from devastating fires which ripped through the Margaret River region, firefighter staffing issues raised in the wake of the fire are yet to be addressed. The Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association slammed what it called a failure to adopt all the recommendations of the Keelty report that was tabled in State Parliament in February. CPSU/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington said a massive shortage of DEC staff volunteering for pre-form teams would compromise the agency’s response to fire fighting should major bushfires break out this summer. She said there were 47 vacancies in the pre-form teams, which provided vital back up and support to the first response crews tackling big fires. Staff volunteer for the rosters but are paid an allowance to be on call. Recommendation 5 of the Keelty report said the department should make succession planning a priority, explore options to attract and retain staff and review salary levels that matched decision-making required in major activities such as prescribed burns. Ms Walkington said the unfilled spots on the roster were proof this recommendation had not been addressed. “The levels of remuneration needs to match major decisions made in the heat of the battle and should be reflective of their roles,” she said. “They also want proper staff development, mentoring and leadership training so that the public can be confident that everyone knows what they are expected to do.” Ms Walkington said some staff were on several different pre-form rosters as well as the first response crews because there were not enough people to fill positions when fires broke out. “We know of one employee who worked for eight weeks straight without a break,” she said. Emergency services spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said to have rosters unfilled at this part of the year was unacceptable. She said a range of measures needed to be adopted so the department had sufficient permanent staff with experience and training and so employees were given more support and greater incentive in terms of pay. A DEC spokeswoman denied that staff members were placed on several pre-form rosters because there were not enough people to fill positions. She said staff were drawn from across all areas of the department as well as staff from other departments and agencies for the rosters. “DEC has operated pre-formed incident management teams to respond to major fires very successfully since the middle of the last decade,” she said. Environment Minister Bill Marmion said firefighting was a difficult, dangerous and stressful job and could therefore be difficult to recruit for. He said DEC’s fire management staff succession strategy was currently being prepared and implemented. Mr Marmion said there were more than 800 DEC personnel involved in fire suppression operations and this in addition to some new positions being created was considered appropriate. He said the state government had provided funding which would be used towards employing 23 more specialist fire officers and 19 frontline firefighters in the South West. The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.