Author: Website Coordinator

NSW RFS Library – October 2012

FYI – the November 2012 Bushfire CRC Fire Update newsletter has just been released.

This month’s Fire Update features:

  • a summary of the recent Research Advisory Forum held here at headquarters
  • CEO Gary Morgan’s view of the inaugural Public Benefit Conversation
  • the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bushfire CRC and French risk management organisation Pôle Risques
  • in the same week as the forum the CRC also hosted IAWF’s Twelfth International Wildland Fire Safety Summit

Presentations from the Research Advisory Forum http://www.bushfirecrc.com/research/event/2012-raf7 and the program of the IAWF Safety Summit herehttp://www.iawfonline.org/Sydney2012/Program_Booklet.pdf .

Previous Bushfire CRC Fire Updates and Fire Notes can be found here http://www.bushfirecrc.com, or search the NSW RFS Library catalogue.

If you have any queries please contact us in the Library by email:  RFS.Library@rfs.nsw.gov.au  or phone: 8741 5455.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Library is a member of ALIES – Australasian Libraries in the Emergency Sector.

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The VFFA Welcomes Reform of Funding for NSW Emergency Services

The Volunteer Firefighters Association of NSW, the ‘voice of volunteer rural firefighters’ in the Rural Fire Service welcomes the NSW State Government’s commitment to reform emergency service funding by replacing the current insurance based levy with a property based levy.

The Volunteer Firefighters Association has been campaigning for a property based levy since our inception 8 years ago.

Currently only those NSW property owners with home and contents insurance contribute to the funding of NSW emergency services whilst the uninsured, under-insured, and those who insure offshore do not contribute their fair share.

The VFFA supports a property based levy as it spreads the costs of funding the emergency services such as the RFS across the community.

The NSW Government has released a discussion paper and invited public submissions on the property based levy. VFFA members are encouraged to provide feedback to the Government discussion paper at the following link:

www.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/ESL<http://www.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/ESL>,

The VFFA supports the adoption in NSW of a funding model similar to the Western Australian Emergency Services Levy (ESL).

The WA Emergency Services Levy  (ESL)  funds  all career and volunteer fire bushfire brigades and the volunteer State Emergency Service (SES) across the state.

The WA funding model is considered a fairer system as fees/charges are dependant on the type and level of fire and emergency services available to a property and the classification of the property i.e what the property is used for.  

The introduction of the Emergency Services Levy in Western Australia has seen a record boost in funding for WA emergency services which is benefiting frontline volunteer bushfire brigades.

The  VFFA invites members to view the WA Emergency Service Levy model at the following link.

 http://www.fesa.wa.gov.au/emergencyserviceslevy/ESL%20Docs/20120701%20ESL%20Q%20A%20Document%20-%202012-13.pdf

VFFA members are welcome to provide feedback on the merits of adopting the WA Emergency Services Levy model in NSW by completing the general feedback formfeedback@volunteerfirefighters.org.au

The VFFA supports the NSW Government’s commitment to a fairer and fiscally responsible funding arrangement for Emergency Services.

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NSW RFS Library – August 2012

Thanks everyone who gave feedback on the June issue of New Arrivals, your comments are appreciated and will help us to improve future editions.

Last month we featured the Celeste Geer documentary “Then the Wind Changed” presented at the 2012 Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference. With help from Nicole Miller in the Community Engagement Team we have now finished loading all the presentations from the Conference on to the Library catalogue, you can see them all here:

Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference presentations

Fire Prevention Posters

This month our newest arrivals are actually quite old – six original posters dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, some featuring Smokey, the NSW Bush Fire Committee’s fire prevention koala. Smokey made his debut appearance at the 1957 Royal Easter Show. The Bush Fire Bulletin reported at the time that: “…from now on the winsome and animated N.S.W. “Smokey” will be making regular appeals for the exercise of care and caution in the use of fire…”.

See him in all his cuteness in the posters, which were donated to us by Tim Carroll, Manager Lake George Zone. We’ve scanned them and added links to the Library catalogue (click on “Full Display” and find the link to the PDF file to download the posters)

Bush Fire Bulletin

Speaking of the Bulletin, this year we celebrate its 60th birthday. The NSW RFS Library holds a full set of the Bush Fire Bulletin from its first issue in 1952 and receives many requests for copies of articles from past editions. We have gradually been indexing the articles, and there are now over 1300 Bulletin items you can find on the Library catalogue. Just go to the main library search screen and combine your search term with the words “Bush Fire Bulletin” to find them.

Brigade Histories

The Library also holds a small but very special collection of brigade histories contributed by NSW RFS members. If you are thinking of compiling your own brigade’s history you can look at how others have done it, and of course we’d love to grow this collection with your contribution.

Early Bush Fire Films

Continuing the historic theme, these four fascinating films from the 1940s and 1950s are available for loan on one DVD:

  • Bushfire Brigade (1949) shows how volunteer bush fire brigades were first organised to prevent and fight fires.
  • Bushfire Prevention (1949) probably used for bushfire prevention and training purposes -sadly the soundtrack did not survive.
  • Bushfire Menace Here Again (1951) a newsreel item from 1951 illustrates the damage fires can cause to rural industries.
  • Who Helps the Enemy? (1945) During WWII the government became concerned that the Japanese army might use bush fire as a weapon on coastal NSW. This Movietone short was played in cinemas to warn people of the danger, with the tag line  “Remember, disaster in Australia means joy in Tokio” (sic)

Library Research Service

A reminder that the Library conducts research for both staff and volunteers. The Library holds many more valuable historical resources and has contacts throughout the other fire emergency libraries in Australia. We welcome the opportunity to research NSW RFS history as it expands the library’s collection which in turn contributes to the organisation’s knowledge base – contact the NSW RFS Library for research support.

New Book – borrow it now

Just announced! 2012 Winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History             

For over a decade, Gammage has examined written and visual records of the Australian landscape. He has uncovered an extraordinarily complex system of land management using fire and the life cycles of native plants to ensure plentiful wildlife and plant foods throughout the year.

See other recent additions to the Library catalogue

Many of these are available as full-text documents for immediate viewing.
New Books, DVD’s, web links, journal articles…

If you have any queries please contact us in the Library by email:  RFS.Library@rfs.nsw.gov.au  or phone: 8741 5455.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Library is a member of ALIES – Australasian Libraries in the Emergency Sector.

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NSW RFS Library – June 2012

Welcome back to New Arrivals, our update on new resources available from the NSW RFS Library. For this edition of New Arrivals the Library and the Community Engagement Team have collaborated to highlight some interesting resources on the recovery of communities affected by natural disasters in Australia.

See all the latest RFS Library resources:

Many of these are available as full-text documents for immediate viewing.
New Books, DVD’s, web links, journal articles…

Special Feature: Communities and Recovery

“My aim has been to guide an audience gently, to lead them past the devastating headlines, beyond the dramatic bushfire and survival footage, into the experience of recovery.”

Celeste Geer, Director of Then the Wind Changed

Film maker and Strathewen resident Celeste Geer was a keynote speaker at the recent Australian Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference where she was interviewed by Lew Short, Group Manager Community Resilience. Her documentary “Then the Wind Changed” drew a huge response from the audience, and for all those who missed the Conference the DVD is now available for loan from the Library: Then the Wind Changed (DVD)

A related resource has been written for secondary students covering the film’s key themes of loss, survival and recovery. The guide also contains valuable information and resources regarding the fires.

Learn more about community recovery:

Straightforward, practical and insightful, this report is straight from the experiences of those who participated with communities following the fires.

Following Black Saturday 40,000 pallets of donated goods arrived, enough to cover an area twice the size of the MCG and costing more than $8 million for storage, staff and transport. This report looks at the issues of managing donations following disasters.

Jill Miller, the CEO of Grampians Community Health reflects on her own experiences working on the frontline following the 2006 bushfires in that area.

By examining psychological responses to disasters, research can uncover valuable insights to improve disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Eminent and experienced psychologists have written a series of short papers following the Queensland Floods. 

The definitive guide to community recovery in Australia, this is the second publication in the Australian Emergency Management Handbook series.

This paper is likely to be most useful to service providers, practitioners and policy-makers engaged with regional and rural communities that are vulnerable to, or working to recover from the effects of, natural disasters such as floods, storms or bushfires.

If you would like to borrow any of these items or if you have any queries please contact us in the Library by email: RFS.Library@rfs.nsw.gov.au  or phone: 8741 5455.

The NSW Rural Fire Service Library is a member of ALIES – Australasian Libraries in the Emergency Sector.

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Local Councils vote to break away from RFS Involvement

MEDIA RELEASE
Friday, 15th June 2012

Local Councils vote to break away from Rural Fire Service Involvement

The Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA), the representative association for Volunteers of the NSW Rural Fire Service was saddened to hear of the outcome of the Local Government & Shires Association’s Annual Conference held in Sydney last week in which delegates overwhelmingly voted for withdrawal from the operations of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Mr. Peter Cannon, President of the Volunteer Firefighters Association said that Local Councils have a long & highly successful history of supporting our volunteers within brigades & this dates back to a time when bushfire brigades were first formed…..they treated volunteers well & with great respect.

It is indeed sad that they have made their decision based on what they say is an overloaded RFS bureaucracy, having been treated with contempt & ineffective management of the RFS towards local Government…..this is a very sad day indeed; said Mr. Cannon.

Volunteers need the Local Councils to remain a part of what we do & the VFFA calls upon the NSW Government to conduct an inquiry into the running of the NSW Rural Fire Service & to work to salvage the Local Councils involvement with RFS Volunteers.

ENDS

Note:

Volunteer rural firefighters who wish to be informed on the position taken by the NSW Local Government and Shires Association are referred to the following link:

http://www.lgsa.org.au/news/media-release/media-release-shires-association-votes-council-operational-disengagement-rural

Media Enquiries:

Peter Cannon, VFFA President. Telephone 0428-697634.

About the VFFA:
The Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA) represents the volunteer firefighters of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

We do not represent any casual, part time or full time wages or salaried staff of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

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Volunteer Rural Fire-fighters could face prosecution under new WHS Laws

19 January 2012

The VFFA, the voice of the NSW volunteer rural fire-fighter is concerned that under the new safety laws, volunteer rural fire-fighters could be prosecuted if an accident occurs whilst protecting their communities from bushfires says President Peter Cannon.

Volunteer rural fire-fighters are now classified as “employees” under the new safety laws and face a legal duty of care to do what is “reasonably practicable” to prevent injury to themselves and others including members of the public.

We know that the duty of care will extend to any setting where volunteer rural fire-fighters are “conducting an undertaking” such as bushfire fighting, training, maintenance and fund raising activities. It means every decision a volunteer rural fire-fighter makes whilst on duty carries a risk of prosecution if an accident happens as a result of that a decision says Peter Cannon.

The level of bureaucratic red tape is expected to increase as the new safety laws require volunteers charged with running their local brigades such as the Brigade Captain and President to have the same level of expertise and resources you would expect of the senior executives of the RFS, which is completely unreasonable and unrealistic says Peter Cannon.

The ramifications of the new safety laws on volunteer rural fire-fighters are significant as breaches of the new safety laws means that volunteer rural fire fighters can face penalties of up to $300,000 or five years in jail.

The duty of care imposed under then new safety laws could cause volunteer’s numbers to decline at a time when volunteer numbers are already suffering. Many older and “retired” volunteer rural fire fighters in country NSW are concerned they may not be permitted on the fire ground under the new safety laws which would undermine the capacity of Rural Fire Brigades to provide protection to their local communities says Peter Cannon.

Retaining volunteers in positions of leadership in the RFS such as Brigade Captains could prove difficult as serving Officers now know they could be prosecuted if an accident occurs on the fire ground under their watch says Peter Cannon.

The fact is that fire fighting is a high risk occupation where things can and do go wrong and it grossly unfair that liability for accidents in such a high risk environment has now shifted to volunteers who could even be prosecuted for an accident even when acting in good faith says Peter Cannon.

The VFFA is calling on the RFS and NSW Government to immediately clarify what the new safety laws mean for volunteer for rural fire-fighters, provide appropriate training and resources to cope with the new safety laws and, most importantly reassure volunteers that they will be provided with appropriate support by the RFS if they are subject to prosecution under the new safety laws.

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Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention

Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention

The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) currently boasts a volunteer membership of 70,000 members made up of active fire fighters, communication and catering personnel and other support roles.

There has been much debate recently within political circles and the media as to the exact numbers of active fire fighters available to attend fires within NSW with figures quoted, ranging from 28,000 to 45,000 active fire fighters. Whilst the exact figure is unknown, it is a fact that presently less than 30,000 members are registered as being trained in basic bushfire training, which is a prerequisite for being an active fire fighter in the NSWRFS.

Nonetheless, the VFFA contends that a significant portion of active fire fighters are of the baby boomer generation who will reach retirement age over the next 10 years. This situation coupled with an aging population, shifting demographics with many young people leaving rural areas and moving to the city pursing further education and employment may potentially diminish the number of active fire fighters in the NSWRFS available to fight fires.

The VFFA therefore supports the introduction of a range of “incentives” to encourage young people to join the NSWRFS as active fire fighters well as retain as long as practible, experienced fire fighters to lead and mentor the next generation of active fire fighters.
The VFFA is an advocate of incentives that could attract and retain volunteer firefighters and support them in the performance of their duties. However this does not extend to direct financial compensation which could be deemed a form of payment for services, or any other matter which conflicts with the ethos of volunteerism in Australia today.

Incentives that could be considered to recruit and retain active fire fighters could include:-

  • Tax relief for PAYE and self employed volunteers of the NSWRFS;
  • Reimbursement for out of pocket expenses associated with the maintenance of existing fire fighting equipment and the purchase of new fire fighting equipment;
  • Reimbursement for costs incurred while travelling to and from meetings, training and incidents;
  • Reimbursement of telephone costs associated with firefighting;
  • Rebate on drivers licence fees, etag fees, private health insurance fees, TAFE and university fees, council rates, electricity and water bills, public transport costs, car and home insurance policies.
  • The establishment by the Commonwealth government of a volunteer support fund to assist volunteer fire fighters who may suffer financial hardship as a result of being away from their normal employment fighting a bushfire during a protracted bushfire emergency that exceeds 7 days. For example, a self employed volunteer fire fighter and other firefighters whose employer is unable or unwilling to support their absence from work.

Recommendations

That the commonwealth government consider the introduction of a range of incentives to attract young people to join the NSWRFS as well as retain the services of experienced active fire fighters to lead and mentor the next generation of active fire fighters. Such incentives could include tax relief, reimbursement of expenses incurred while participating in fire services activities and the establishment of a volunteer support fund to assist volunteer fire fighters who may suffer financial hardship as a result of being away from their normal employment fighting a bushfire during a protracted bushfire emergency that exceeds 7 days. For example, self employed volunteers.

Author: Michael Scholz

VFFA Executive Council Member

RFS volunteer 34 years service

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Workers Compensation Review

Recent media publications outlining the State Governments plans to review existing Workers Compensation entitlements  should not be viewed as a threat to the level of coverage currently afforded to RFS Volunteers.

The VFFA is well ahead on this issue & have been in communication with the relevant Government Department looking into this review.

We feel comfortable that RFS Volunteers will not see any change to what we currently have in place, most particularly traveling to & from the station for bonafide callouts.

We will keep you abreast of any updates.

If you have any questions on this or any other matters, feel free to contact us at: feedback@volunteerfirefighters.org.au

VFFA – Keeping Volunteers Informed

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Welfare Relief Fund for Volunteer Rural Firefighters

The Problem / Background

Over the past 14 years, many parts of NSW have experienced a significant increase in major bushfire situations resulting in the declaration of numerous section 44 bushfire emergencies. The most notable fire seasons were 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

These fires season were particularly onerous and required considerable resources and effort by fire services and land managers before the larger campaign fires were bought under control and normality restored to affected communities. A significant portion of the fire fighting effort during these years was undertaken by the volunteer fire-fighters of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Due to the size and progress of these fires, the potential threat to life and property and the resources required to suppress the fires, many volunteer fire-fighters had little choice but to avail themselves to fire fighting or other fire related tasks for a considerable period of time. In most instances, when they were not fighting the fires they were resting. Whilst there is no direct evidence to support this claim, there is much anecdotal evidence that many volunteer fire fighters suffered financial hardship during these fires as a result of not receiving an income whilst on duty with the RFS.

Since its inception, the Rural Fire Service (formerly Bushfire Brigade) prided itself on its ability to muster volunteers to fight fires in our local communities, usually for no more than few days at a time.

However, much change has occurred in the past 12 years and one of those changes has seen Brigades traveling further a field for extended periods to assist in the suppression of bushfires with many of these fires continuing well beyond a few days to over a month. An example is the recent Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009 where CFA fire-fighters along with interstate colleagues were stretched to the limit and worked well beyond a month to control the fires. In addition, the RFS assists other emergency services such as the SES at other significant and protracted natural disasters such as the Sydney hail storm of 1999.

Whilst change has occurred within the RFS, notable changes have also occurred on the employment front, with workplace contracts, greater demands on employees and many self-employed working longer hours to make ends meet.

In the end, the volunteer fire-fighter has to decide between his work and the protection of his home, family and the community. This is an unsatisfactory outcome for the volunteer fire-fighter and the local community in times of emergencies and one that should be addressed as a matter of urgency with the evolution of our service. In this context, bushfires and other emergencies must be seen as a whole of community problem and associated costs must be borne by the community, business and government alike, otherwise volunteer services such as the RFS may not be sustainable in the future.

It is therefore proposed that a mechanism be established by the State Government to provide some form of “safety net” to cover the financial burden of volunteer fire-fighters and their families during protracted section 44 bushfires and other emergencies.

 Recommendation

That the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association make representation to the NSW Rural Fire Service to investigate the feasibility of providing financial support to volunteer fire-fighters during a protracted section 44 bushfire emergency and other emergencies where the service has an involvement.

The proposed model is an emergency welfare/relief fund, set up by the State Government and coordinated by the Department of Community Services (DOCs) or Centrelink at a local office. An ex gratia weekly cash payment would be provided to volunteer fire-fighters under the following circumstances;

Where a volunteer fire fighter participates continuously for a period of no less than 7 days in fire fighting or other related tasks during a declared section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency and,  is self-employed or where an employer cannot financially support their absence during a section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency.

Following the first payment, further payment would be made at intervals not less than 7 days apart for the duration of the section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergencies and shall only be issued on the production of a recognized certificate to DOCs or Centrelink that has been certified by the Fire Control Officer,

Such payment would only be provided to cover basic living and out of pocket expenses for the duration of the section 44 bushfire emergency or other emergency. The cash payment could take the form of a flat fee based on average weekly earnings determined by the Federal Government.

Why this proposal should be supported

This proposal should be supported to: –

ensure that volunteer fire-fighters have an income sufficient to cover basic living expenses to support themselves and their families during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies, ensure that the RFS can deliver, support and maintain its core services to the community during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies, ensure a strong, healthy and viable membership of the RFS, ensure the welfare and wellbeing of the volunteer fire-fighters of the RFS.

Consequences of this course of action

The consequences of doing nothing may result in: –

low recruitment and loss of experienced volunteer fire fighters in the RFS, increased morale problems in the RFS, loss of potential new members to the RFS, the incapacity of the RFS to provide an ongoing and sustained commitment to protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies due to lack of trained volunteer fire-fighters, a heightened concern in the community due to the diminished role of the RFS, the need to establish more permanent fire services to compensate for the loss of volunteer services.

The consequences of implementing the above proposal will as per section 3 above including;

  •  ensure that the RFS meets its community obligations and delivers its core business functions in a most timely effective and efficient manner during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies and other emergencies.
  •  ensure a continued high level of membership and morale in the RFS.
  •  ensure the readiness and preparedness of the RFS to rapidly respond as and when required to bushfire emergencies and other emergencies.

Alternatives

One alternative that could be considered is the introduction of a system of tax relief for the self-employed and small business who employ volunteer fire-fighters. Such a system would need to be a national system administered by the Federal Government. A system of tax relief may be a viable alternative, but would require rigid criteria and a strong commitment by all stakeholders including volunteer fire fighters to ensure its success and prevent potential abuses.

Another alternative is the introduction of a paid retainer for volunteer fire-fighters during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies. This system would need to be supported by the Federal Government and could be based on a similar system in place for members of the Australian Army Reserve when on duty with the Australian Army.

In conclusion, given Australia’s aging population, the decline in rural areas and membership of the RFS and the spectra of workplace contracts along with the likelihood of climate change and more frequent devastating bushfires as forecast by eminent scientists in the future – the need for a highly trained and rapidly mobilised volunteer rural fire service to protect life, property and the environment cannot be underestimated.

Conclusion

To this end, it is paramount that consideration be given by the RFS and the Government to introduce measures to enhance and improve the welfare of volunteer fire fighters that aim to minimize the risk of financial hardship suffered by volunteer fire fighters during protracted section 44 bushfire emergencies. It must be borne in mind that this is not a form of employment or payment, rather a short term scheme to support volunteer fire-fighters and their families if needed. This action along with other measures would undoubtedly foster the recruitment of new volunteer fire-fighters as well as the retention of experienced volunteer fire fighters and is worthy of further investigation by the RFS and the Government.

Author: Michael Scholz

VFFA Executive Council Member

Member of the RFS for 34 years.

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VFFA Welcomes Review of Rural Fire Service Levy

MEDIA RELEASE

Friday, 15th June 2012

Review of Fire Service Levy

The Volunteer Firefighters Association of NSW, the representative association for Volunteers of the NSW Rural Fire Service welcomes the NSW State Governments decision to review the funding model for Emergency Services.

The Volunteer Firefighters Association has been campaigning for a more equitable model for the collection of funding for the Emergency Services in NSW since our association first began eight years ago.

Reform is urgently needed to ensure that all residents contribute to the cost of these services rather than just those who insure in NSW & offshore.

We look forward to an opportunity of working with the NSW Government in undertaking this revue.

Media Enquiries:

Peter Cannon, VFFA President. Telephone 0428-697634.

About the VFFA:
The Volunteer Firefighters Association (VFFA) represents the volunteer firefighters of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

We do not represent any casual, part time or full time wages or salaried staff of the NSW Rural Fire Service.

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