AUSTRALIA – The Rural Fire Service has today been accused of putting the safety of the public at risk on multiple occasions over a three-month period in damning documents released by Fire and Rescue NSW.
Records of 112 fires that occurred across western Sydney between October 2016 and January this year allege RFS firefighters were either delayed in answering calls for assistance or failed to answer the calls completely, arrived with incorrect equipment and refused additional help, according to a Daily Telegraph report.
The leaked files also accuse RFS volunteers of doctoring response times to make them appear faster and allege that the public were placed at “greater risk” because of inadequate responses on more than a dozen occasions.
The records cover emergency responses to bush, grass, building and motor vehicle fires as well as fire alarm issues, hazmat emergencies and road accidents, with the most recent reported call on January 23.
They also detail incidents when RFS officers had been assigned to an emergency call, even if they were located further from the scene than Fire and Rescue NSW crews, and were still found to have arrived after the state-funded firefighters.
Incident logs from Sunday show the state firefighters offered help twice to RFS officers battling the blaze and were rejected on both occasions before eventually being called in.
NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers defended the move, saying the Fire and Rescue NSW truck that was rejected was simply not fit to deal with the rugged terrain in the remote area around the Tathra fire ground.
“The fire we’re talking about was burning in a rural-remote area on fire trails,” he told the Nine Network’s Today.
“(The truck) doesn’t have the safety equipment, (it) wasn’t the right type of vehicle for that fire. To suggest that that vehicle could have gone to that fire and done anything meaningful is mischievous, it’s just simply not correct.
“As soon as that fire left that more rugged terrain and entered that more road-based area, we called for every assistance that we could get. I just reject that, it’s just completely wrong.”
The allegations also come as a separate dispute has broken out between the NSW Electrical Trade Union, Essential Energy – an electricity provider that distributes power to more than 800,000 homes in NSW – and the state government, in light of RFS findings that claim downed power lines were the “likely cause” of the Tathr bushfire.
The Union has accused the government of recently cutting funding to Essential Energy, which has resulted in staff cuts and therefore a drop in safety standards. Despite that allegation, Essential Energy has defended its internal processes and its maintenance of the Tathra electrical network.
As a result of the tragic blaze, 69 houses and 30 caravans were burnt down and 1200 hectares of land were left destroyed.
A bushfire inquiry was launched by NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant following the incident and the RFS also confirmed it would also begin an internal investigation into how its response could have been bettered.