NSW firefighter blasts bushfire authorities over ‘terrible’ leadership, communication

01 August 2020

Published by https://www.abc.net.au

AUSTRALIA – A NSW firefighter has slammed fire authorities after he was sent out on one of Australia’s worst bushfires days but due to poor communication and leadership did not battle a single blaze.

In his submission to the New South Wales Independent Bushfire Inquiry, James Diamond described his shift on New Year’s Eve, 2019 as the “most frustrating and mortifying day” of his 11-year career.

Dozens of homes were lost that day on the NSW South Coast, including 89 in Conjola Park alone.

Mr Diamond said his crew from Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) was deployed to South Nowra for several hours but were not given the chance to save a single property.

“What a way to bring in the new year, by achieving absolutely nothing that day. Didn’t get the hose off the truck once while people were losing everything, literally,” his submission said.

“I can hands down say that that was the most frustrating and mortifying day I have had in the 11 years I’ve been a firefighter.”

The senior firefighter was critical of communication between agencies, leadership and decisions made around deployment.

He said his crew had “wasted” several hours on standby in Katoomba and in Orchard Hills, in Sydney’s west.

Rather than head straight to the fireground, Mr Diamond said his crew were told to grab a meal at the local McDonald’s where some locals asked why they “weren’t doing anything”.

Mr Diamond said they were sent to put out spot fires near the HMAS Albatross Military Base but when they arrived “the fire had long been through”.

Eventually, they returned to Sydney. On the way, he discovered via social media and phone calls that friends who owned a dairy farm were fighting the fire without any assistance.

“If I can find out about people who are in desperate need of assistance by looking at Facebook and making a few phone calls, surely the RFS and FRNSW should have more of an idea of what’s going on than me and my mobile phone,” he wrote in his submission.

Mr Diamond said it was “disgraceful and made me furious” to hear of the number of homes lost in the region while his team did not get near a fire.

Fire and Rescue NSW did not provide a response to Mr Diamond’s specific allegations but a spokesperson said it would work closely with the NSW Government to implement any recommendations once they were handed down.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been contacted for comment.

Mr Diamond’s submission is one of 2,000 made to the inquiry by individuals and organisations, 900 of which were made public on Friday.

Some common themes to emerge from many of those submissions are volunteer firefighters saying they had to provide their own masks and at times helmets.

Inexperienced firefighters revealed how they were left with little supervision and had to work for 16 hours straight.

Many of the submissions also expressed serious concerns at the Fires Near Me app not updating quickly enough.

One South Coast family said they evacuated three times and were inadequately prepared to take shelter on a beach with their toddler.

The submissions include harrowing accounts of the summer disaster, calls for better coordination between agencies and a need to implement new strategies to reduce fuel loads in National Parks.

One resident recalled bursting into tears while trying to defend his parents house from a blazing inferno at Conjola Park, while dozens of others told the inquiry their frantic calls to triple zero were left unanswered at the height of the emergency.

In his submission, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro called for the reintroduction of grazing in national parks to minimise fuel loads and help reduce the risk of bushfires.

The inquiry’s report was delivered to the Government on Friday.

A spokesperson for the NSW Government said it was considering the recommendations and would release the report and its response shortly.

Key points:

  • Around 2,000 submissions were made to the inquiry, 900 of which are public
  • The inquiry has handed its report to the NSW Government
  • It says it is considering the recommendations and will release a response shortly
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