Australia — A West Australian parliamentary committee has found that firefighters are struggling with a lack of basic equipment despite a series of massive bushfires.
Toodyay in 2009, the Perth Hills in 2010 and Margaret River last year suffered huge property losses after devastating fires swept through an increasingly dry and dangerous WA landscape.
And with one Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) firefighter already having been killed in a fire in Albany last month, committee chairman Tony O’Gorman said that despite claims of better preparedness there were still major flaws in the state’s firefighting capability.
‘The government has given extra money to the department (of Fire and Emergency Services) but have then taken a whole heap of that money back,’ Mr O’Gorman said.
‘We think that actually does affect frontline services.’
Ahead of what is tipped to be another nightmare bushfire season in 2012, the state government has admitted a combination of a heavy fuel load, a dry winter and expected unhelpful weather threaten more major bushfires.
The committee tasked with investigating WA’S fire readiness concluded that firefighters were being exposed to danger because of a reliance on ancient UHF radios.
One firefighter gave evidence that he now carried five different radios in his cab to talk to different people, and digital radios sometimes failed as soon as pumps left suburban fire stations.
‘The WA Emergency Radio Network (WAERN) seems to have significantly degraded performance in the bushfire environment,’ a committee statement said.
‘Incredibly … its performance is affected by both smoke and water vapour, and witnesses (said) they revert to using their older UHF radios.
‘Digital upgrades had been deferred due to budgetary constraints.’
The committee also concluded that volunteer firefighters were still waiting for more training and basic equipment, including fire blankets.
It called on Minister for Emergency Services Troy Buswell to institute a database of potential hotspots around the state by the 2013-14 bushfire season and to ensure future post-fire analyses were out within eight weeks of the event.
The committee said a solid policy was needed for how victims of future major natural disasters, such as bushfires, would be compensated.
It called for a review of the ability of that state’s insurers to assess losses more quickly.
‘The evidence from witnesses highlighted that there has been ad hoc assistance provided by the government for victims of different bushfires over the past three years,’ the committee said.
Mr Buswell said WA was better prepared for this year’s bushfire season than it was last year, but noted this season would be a challenge.
‘We are, I think, better prepared than we were last year. We’ll be better prepared next year,’ he said.
‘You’d never say we’re as prepared as we ever can be because the nature of fire and the nature of response to fire is that you’ll always find things that you can do better.’
Mr Buswell said the government was still ‘flat out’ responding to other bushfire reports.
There should not be an artificial timeline on post-event analysis, he said.
‘We had, what I think, was a well-considered response,’ Mr Buswell said.
‘Where there are learnings to be made we’ll accept those learnings, but we’re not going to just rush the report out because a parliamentary committee decides that’s what they think is appropriate.’ 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.