Rural fire service plan up in smoke

Rural fire service plan up in smoke

09 April 2017

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Australia — Regional West Australians can forget about an Eastern States-style rural fire service, because of the deterioration of the Budget, new Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan has indicated.

An independent rural bushfire service was the key recommendation out of the official investigation into last year’s devastating Waroona bushfire, which all but destroyed Yarloop and killed two men.

Investigator Euan Ferguson declared the delivery of rural fire services “deficient” and would be best improved by the creation of an entity separate to the existing Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

A second option was a “sub-department” of DFES with its own budget, responsibilities and powers.

A third option, submitted by DFES, was for a “rural fire command” within the department to elevate the delivery of regional services.

This was not supported by Mr Ferguson.

Mr Logan said the State Government was considering all options ahead of a mitigation “summit” promised during the election campaign, which he was aiming to hold before June.

But he warned the public not to expect the “rolled-gold” model.

The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades and mitigation lobby group The Bushfire Front have argued in favour of a standalone agency similar to Victoria’s Country Fire Authority.

Mr Logan said such a model could cost up to $400 million.

“We haven’t got that kind of money at the moment,” he said. “Everyone would love to win Lotto, but we are not going to do that.

“We are in a financial situation which is far worse than we thought it was and we have got to cut our cloth to suit.

“How’s it going to be paid for — and I’d put that back to the vollies.”

The Liberal-Nationals government accepted Mr Ferguson’s 17 recommendations and announced Collie as its preferred location for a rural fire service headquarters.

Vasse Liberal MP Libby Mettam has since said she would prefer local resources rather than “another layer of bureaucracy through the creation of an independent rural fire authority”.

AVBFB president Dave Gossage described the $400 million estimate as wildly inflated and urged the Government not to discount an independent service.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way, and this State cannot afford to upset volunteers,” Mr Gossage said.

Veteran Roleystone volunteer firefighter Noel Plowman said the most important factor was to respect and use local knowledge, particularly during major fires, regardless of the management structure.

“They stress that local knowledge is very important but in the larger fires, basically it’s forgotten,” he said.

“They bring preformed teams in and push aside the locals, rather than keeping them as part of the management team.

“Local knowledge is extremely important for things like where the fire is going, what fuel loadings are in front of it, what tracks and roads you’ll use to get resources in to fight the fire — the locals know all that.”

The Roleystone Bushfire Brigade captain said he thought it could be done within DFES but they needed to start working with all the volunteers, who often had decades of experience and were “one hell of a resource”.

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