Protecting the local community or following the IC’s command?

By Michael Eburn, PhD and Barrister – September 24, 2018

This question touches on a significant issue in rural or bush fire fighting.  The details provided by my correspondent, a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service, are very extensive, but I have edited them down to distil the essential facts whilst trying not to identify the participants, the location or the fire.

The gist of the issue is that my correspondent was with a volunteer brigade that had been sent out of area to assist at a large campaign fire. The incident controller had determined ‘that there would be no active, direct firefighting’.  Even so the firefighters were approached by people whose properties were at risk.  They understood that they were ‘being directed not to help the local farmers when they are in effect begging for help’.

This is not the first time this has happened – see Self help firefighting in Victoria(August 30, 2014).

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) – Volunteers Overlooked

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) – Volunteers Overlooked

The VFFA received an email from a member, suggesting that the HSR program for volunteers has not been properly addressed by the NSW RFS.

The RFS has published the following key HSR election dates:

12 September to 8 October 2018 – Notice of Election sent to members and HSR nominations open
5 November 2018 – Ballot papers posted to members
10 December 2018 – Voting closes at 12:00pm
31 January 2019 – Results of HSR elections announced by this date
1 March 2019 – Elected HSRs commence their three year term

The VFFA is concerned that the period (12 September to 8 October 2018) is insufficient time to properly advertise this important program to all volunteers across the state.

The RFS is seeking to fill 47 HRS positions for NSW.

The VFFA is concerned that 47 HSR’s across the state is simply a compliance exercise designed to appease the legislation and SafeWork NSW is allowing it.

FRNSW have over 100 HSR’s for their 22,000 membership.

The RFS claims to have over 70,000 volunteers. Even at a more realistic figure of 20,000 volunteers fighting fires, the number of HSR’s should be greater than 47.

The RFS claims to have 47 work places (Districts). The VFFA does not feel that 47 work places is an accurate representation of actual work places within this diverse organisation.

Do you want to help make your fire fighting workplace a safer, healthier and cohesive workplace?

Do you want to make a real change in your workplace in ensuring compliance to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act)?

Become a Health and Safety Representative (HSR) and help make your workplace a safer and healthier place to be.

If there is more than one nomination for one position an election needs to take place.

Yankees Gap Fire – Half a century of regress in land and fire management

Yankees Gap Fire – Half a century of regress in land and fire management

By Vic Jurskis (Feature Photo and Video Link: You Tube – Helmreich Joinery)

In autumn 1968, CSIRO and New South Wales Bushfire Council carried out only the second aerial hazard reduction burn in NSW, in Vacant Crown Land that is now National Park and Wilderness. Danny Christopher, the Fire Control Officer reckoned that the burn saved Bega in spring that year. Other parts of the state had a devastating fire season. Fourteen people died, 156 homes and buildings were lost and a million hectares were incinerated. Later on, wildfires in the rough country between Bemboka and Brogo in 1986 and 1988 were contained by backburning from the network of fire trails constructed by the Bush Fire Council.

Another wildfire started in this area on 15thAugust 2018. Just as well it happened when it did. After 30 days of fire control operations using ground crews and water-bombing helicopters, under mostly favourable conditions, crews were evacuated in anticipation of extreme winds on Saturday 15thSeptember. A house, several sheds and possibly some livestock were lost. Conditions eased with a southwesterly change. On Sunday a Rural Fire Service airtanker commenced bombing operations with fire retardant from its base in Sydney.

Parks Cuts – Volunteers Expected to Pick up the Slack

Parks Cuts – Volunteers Expected to Pick up the Slack

There are many examples of how the NSW Government is cutting back services and expecting our volunteers to pick up the slack.

The lack of Ambulance Officers in some rural areas creates a situation where our volunteers are too often, required to drive the Ambulance to emergency medical care, whilst the paid officer tends to the patient. Most volunteers are happy to provide support from time to time, but there comes a point in time that these expectations become unreasonable.

The same could be said for the restructure of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

The NPWS claims that the cuts and restructure has not impacted upon the service’s firefighting capacity, but the VFFA is receiving a very different story from many NPWS staff. They say that a large number of very experienced NPWS firefighters have left the service and the restructure has not always replaced those people with a comparable experience base.

It has been suggested that the NSW Government is cashing in on the good will of NSW Volunteers (not limited to firefighting).

The NSW Government needs to be reminded that volunteers are a valuable resource that must be respected, not abused.

Past (and New) VFFA Political Relationships

Past (and New) VFFA Political Relationships

Dear VFFA Members and Supporters
The VFFA has maintained an apolitical approach with a desire to work with any political party that best represents the needs of our volunteer members.
We are witnessing a massive shift away from the major political parties and I would encourage you to consider your vote in the next State Election very carefully to ensure that your needs are being properly addressed by your political representative.
This letter (post) is written to inform you of some political history surrounding your Association.

Winner Winner – A Henty Grinner

Winner Winner – A Henty Grinner

The VFFA, management and staff at Ecocrackenback congratulate the prize winner, Lyn Martin of Bethanga. Lyn (with family or friends) will be heading off on a Summer adventure, staying at Ecocrackenback in the beautiful Snowy Mountains.

The Ecocrackenback property consists of 18 luxuriously appointed ‘habitats’ nestled amongst the snow gums on 40 acres along Alpine Way close to Jindabyne and Alpine NSW.

Henty 2018, has been a winner all-round with some great opportunities to meet with Rural Fire Service Volunteers, talk to the public and continue to build our strength as an association that represents a large number of volunteer firefighters across NSW.

Another potential winner is the environment, as the VFFA continues to promote the advantages of cultural and ecological burning practices.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Are modern firefighting agencies inciting fear as a method of risk management rather than applying appropriate risk control measures? 

Fear is a powerful tool, it sells newspapers, keeps the television ratings alive, gives our radio stations some great material to talk about and it helps to drive campaigns to increase public spending on reactive and expensive firefighting strategies that we simply cannot afford.

Image if we could return to a situation where our local firefighters looked after their own patch without the red tape associated with hazard reduction. Image how nice it would be if our land management practices were returned to a commonsense and balanced approach that our Indigenous Australians, farmers and graziers have used in the past.

Instead of cooking the guts out of the country, we could see improved forest health and reduced risk to our native animals and the bush that we love so much.

Instead, we see another story that warns us of a bleak bushfire outlook. There is no mention of the massive fuel loads that are the root cause of this problem.

The elephant in the room is fuel.

2018 Volunteer Welfare and Efficiency Survey – NSW RFSA

2018 Volunteer Welfare and Efficiency Survey – NSW RFSA

Many volunteers took part in last year’s national Volunteer Welfare and Efficiency Survey, and the NSW Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA) is inviting NSW RFS members to once again participate in the 2018 survey.

The annual survey began with the CFA volunteers’ association, Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) five years ago, and now for the third year, VFBV is hosting a version on behalf of RFSA. Once again the survey is available to volunteer fire associations through the Council of Australian Volunteer Fire Associations (CAVFA).

The Hidden Cost of Bushfires – by Roger Underwood

The Hidden Cost of Bushfires – by Roger Underwood

As I pursue my passion for bushfire safety I am frequently confronted by people who live in bushfire-prone residential situations but who make no preparations for fire. When I ask why, they say that they are not worried. “If a fire comes, I will simply evacuate” they say, “and if the house burns, I have insurance and will just rebuild”. This philosophy is usually based on the fear that preparing for bushfires (especially fuel reduction in bushland) means “destroying the environment”.
Several things have not been thought-through…

Bush Fire Control in Australia (1961)

Bush Fire Control in Australia (1961)

The recent bushfires in NSW are not in “mid winter”, where they occurred as suggested by many.
The bushfire season in mid-NSW always starts earlier than in southern Australia, with bushfires around Sydney and in the Blue Mountains historically occurring at this time of the year.
People forget how far north Sydney is (latitude), being closer to a sub-tropical than a temperate climate.
Every year when there are bushfires around Sydney in August or Sept, the cry goes out “Climate Change! Bushfires in mid-winter!”, while history and climatic zones are ignored.
On page 20 of the textbook, Bush Fire Control in Australia (1961), there is an excellent map of Australia showing the bushfire seasons. South-eastern Qld and central coastal NSW are clearly shown as having an occasional August / September fire season start.
It is worth noting that the weather varies from year to year, the diagram shows the average situation.
When you take notice of the date that this textbook was published (well over 50 years ago), these fires are nothing new. The intensity of the fires is increasing because of fuel loads and the drought in NSW will impact upon bushfire conditions.