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.
There are many common problems that volunteer firefighters face in an Australia wide context.
One issue that has been raised by the VFFA is the need for the NSW State Government to look at the rural culture that has been eroded by city-centric RURAL Fire Service management.
This media content is being shared to highlight the parallels that exist with our WA counterparts.
“Whilst you’ve got a city-centric department running a state-wide business you’re always going to have this conflict”
The Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) has secured a site at the Henty Machinery Field Days. The focus of our presence at Henty will be to “Put the RURAL back into the Rural Fire Service”.
Our site will feature a couple of tanker trailers in an effort to create some discussion upon the need for the State government to formally recognise the firefighting capability that farmers bring to the table.
Mr Grant forgot one simple fact. The NSW RFS headquarters does not put the fires out.
Firefighters (full time, part time and volunteer) put the fires out.
The Hon. Philip Donato (Orange) asks the question (directed to the Minister for Police, and Minister for Emergency Services) “In light of the recent announcement on the new Rural Fire Service training facility in Dubbo, will the Minister now reconsider the relocation of the entire Rural Fire Service headquarters to the Central West?”
The announcement to build a Centre of Excellence in Dubbo is a victory for the people of Dubbo, the VFFA, all volunteers, regional and rural people of NSW.
This news is certainly a step in the right direction as it will pave the way for increased regional and rural influence in the RFS Learning and Development Directorate.
The VFFA congratulates MP Troy Grant, Dubbo Regional Council, NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers for this commitment but does it goes far enough? The VFFA believes that a much larger chunk of the NSW Rural Fire Service, if not all, needs to be decentralised.
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.
We are seeing an increase in privately owned fire fighting equipment across Australia as rural people are deciding to ‘go it alone’. In NSW, farmers are working with their neighbours to provide fire protection that was once coordinated and supported by the state of NSW.
We are also seeing a trend where the NSW RFS is holding fire crews back from active firefighting activities because they are concerned about the safety of their volunteers. At the same time, the RFS is determined to stop the freelance firefighters and local land owners from battling the fires without the RFS.
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.