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.
A newsletter (from the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades WA Inc) clearly highlights that volunteer firefighters in Western Australia are endangered unless radical changes to the existing city-centric management occur. The VFFA continues to campaign to protect the future of volunteer firefighters in New South Wales from the same demise.
The decline of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been documented in their own financial reports.
… our diverse volunteer family needs specialist understanding and better support… something that a city-centric, para-military bureaucracy simply can not deliver.
Put the RURAL back into the Rural Fire Service.
When the question “How do we stop volunteer emergency service workers quitting?” is asked, many volunteers will respond with “listen more and dictate less”
The NSW RFS Annual Report for 2014 / 2015 stated that there was a total of 74,516 volunteers.
The NSW RFS Annual Report for 2015 / 2016 (one year later) stated that there was a total of 73,162 volunteers.
This is a reduction of 1354 volunteers.
Although this decline was recorded in the NSW RFS Annual Reports, the VFFA believes that the total number of actively engaged NSW RFS Volunteers is grossly overstated.
Volunteer firefighters in many rural areas of NSW are distancing themselves from the bureaucracy and many farmers are choosing to “do their own thing” as we see an increase in “freelance firefighting” in rural areas.
There has been some discussion (even in NSW) about the implications of setting up an independent fire service.
When you look back in time, at the way that the NSW RFS began, it seems to have gone full circle:
1. Neighbours pooling resources and working together to protect themselves and each other from the threat of fire.
2. A larger group of people working together as above but forming a brigade that is supported by local government.
3. A state based organisation working with local governments to support local brigades.
4. The state based organisation builds an empire that looses focus upon the reason they are their in the first place.
5. The state based organisation grows bigger with bureaucracy and over complication clouding their ability to properly serve those local brigades.
6. Local brigades get frustrated.
7. Experienced people often leave.
8. Neighbours consider pooling resources and working together to protect themselves and each other from the threat of fire.
By Michael Eburn
One of our members who was previously not an officer of the brigade gained employment with the RFS and as part of his employment was given a staff rank that outranks any of the officers in the brigade.
This member has since informed us that he also carries that rank into his volunteer time with the brigade and that as a consequence he has to wear his staff rank to jobs with the brigade and if he is unhappy with the way an incident is being run by the brigade he has a legal obligation to take over control of the incident, and that he is the one that will be responsible if something goes wrong as he would be the senior officer on scene.