THE Rural Fire Service (RFS) has lost touch with its regional roots, and volunteers who have spoken against the bureaucracy have faced bullying and harassment, including election interference at a brigade level, a parliamentary inquiry into the emergency services has been told.
Enough talking, it’s time to listen.
After the 2003 Canberra fires, Mr Gary Nairn, MP stated that the House of Representatives, Select Committee heard a consistent message right around Australia:
1. There has been grossly inadequate hazard reduction burning on public lands for far too long.
2. Local knowledge and experience is being ignored by an increasingly top-heavy bureaucracy.
3. When accessing the source of fires, volunteers are fed up with having their lives put at risk by fire trails that are blocked and left without maintenance.
4. There is a reluctance by state agencies to aggressively attack bushfires when they first start, thus enabling the fires to build in intensity and making them harder to control, and
5. Better communications between and within relevant agencies is long overdue.
Very little has changed in the 13 years since the report by Mr Nairn with every increasing bureaucracy, disregard for volunteer firefighters, failures to engage local knowledge and a reluctance by state agencies to aggressively attack bushfires. In fact, the situation has become worse.
It goes without saying that a step in the right direction would be to re-engage with locals and move away from the city-centric management that will never be able to fully understand regional and rural issues.
The only people who can possibly understand regional and rural issues are regional and rural people. This is a no-brainer.
We need to decentralise all of the NSW Rural Fire Service so that regional and rural engagement begins to happen as it once did under local government support.
This post includes a VFFA video that was created to help promote the NSW Legislative Council, Upper House Committee inquiry into Emergency Services Agencies.
Submissions close on the 23rd July 2017.
This inquiry is not limited the the RFS. It is looking at bullying, harassment and discrimination in all emergency service agencies as well as relocation of the NSW RFS head office or Headquarters to a regional location.
Radio 2UUU morning host, Barry Mac talks to the Hon. Robert Borsak MLC (Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party) about the inquiry into and report on emergency services agencies with a focus upon:
1. Bullying, harassment and discrimination
2. Support structures in place to assist victims
3. Support services available to emergency services workers and volunteers with related mental health issues
4. The appropriateness of uniforms provided to personnel in emergency services agencies
5. The relocation of the New South Wales Rural Fire Services Headquarters to Orange, Dubbo or Parkes
Submissions close on the 23rd July 2017
Please don’t remain silent, the VFFA is prepared to assist where possible and we have been assured that a range of protective measures can be applied if you are worried about retribution.
The Legislative Council, Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Legal Affairs will inquire into and report on emergency services agencies, and in particular:
a) The prevalence of bullying, harassment and discrimination, as well as the effectiveness of the protocols and procedures in place to manage and resolve such complaints within emergency services agencies, including: New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue New South Wales, New South Wales Police Force, Ambulance Service of New South Wales, and New South Wales State Emergency Service.
b) The support structures in place to assist victims of workplace bullying, harassment and/ or discrimination within emergency services agencies.
c) The support services available to emergency services workers and volunteers to assist with mental health issues resulting from workplace trauma and the effectiveness of those programs.
d) The appropriateness of uniforms provided to personnel in emergency services agencies.
e) The relocation of the New South Wales Rural Fire Services Headquarters to Orange, Dubbo or Parkes.
f) Any other related matter.
Congratulations to the Liberal Government in Western Australia in announcing the locating of its new Rural Fire Service Headquarters to a Rural location.
It’s not too late for NSW to follow suit by relocating our RURAL Fire Service to a rural location.
Let’s put the RURAL back into the Rural Fire Service.
How quickly do we forget the past? We have failed to learn from Australia’s traditional land managers and we have not learned from our early explorers. We spend huge amounts of money being reactive instead of being proactive. Our post incident inquires make recommendations but we continue to ignore common sense and reasoning.
Roger Underwood shares the following historic accounts:
Endeavour journal, 19 July 1770
Joseph Banks was with Captain Cook in 1770, camped at what is now Cooktown while The Endeavour was being repaired after hitting a coral reef. The sailors had angered the local Aborigines by taking turtles (without permission and without offering to share) and revenge took place by the Aborigines setting fire to the grass around the camp. Banks recalled in his journal:
I had little idea of the fury with which grass burnt in this hot climate, nor of the difficulty of extinguishing it when once lighted: this accident will however be a sufficient warning for us, if ever we should again pitch tents in such a climate, to burn every thing around us before we begin.
On the 24 Jun 2016, ABC Rural published an article titled “WA volunteer bush firefighters will only support rural fire service independent of Department of Fire and Emergency Services”.
The article by Belinda Varischetti and Joanna Pendergast included two recorded interviews that are well worth a listen.
Mr Humphries refers to the Wambelong fire that occurred on 12 and 13 January around the Coonabarabran district and the Warrumbungle National Park.
On that day Bureau of Meteorology fire information, according to the continuous Haines index which measures atmospheric instability, was extreme.
On those days there were temperatures of more than 40 degrees and winds from the North to North‑West of 20 to 30 kilometres per hour.
The resulting fire damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of National Park, destroyed private property, destroyed 52 houses and numerous stock.