Sydney Morning Herald

By Tim Barlass – March 13, 2016

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Volunteer firefighters have complained after they said they were compared to the bumbling characters portrayed in the TV series Dad’s Army by Emergency Services Minister David Elliott.

The claims emerged at a General Meeting of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association held last Saturday in Murrumbateman, Southern Tablelands, and attended by more than 70 members representing volunteers across Australia.

Members told the meeting they were insulted by the allegations and have called on the minister to apologise or explain his comments.

Mr Elliott

David Elliott said in a statement he firmly rejected the volunteer fire fighters’ interpretation of his comments. Photo: Marco Del Grande.

Executive members say the comments were made at a private meeting in November attended by three members of the fire fighters top brass in an attempt to build bridges after a previous falling out with the minister three months after he was appointed.

His comments then that he hadn’t heard of the volunteers fire fighters widened the rift between the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, which represents only volunteers, and the Rural Fire Service Association, which represents paid staff as well as volunteers.

Mr Elliott said in a statement he firmly rejected the volunteer fire fighters’ interpretation of his comments.

Dad’s Army was a cult comedy series in the ’70s featuring the incompetence of a volunteer Home Guard unit during World War II. Main characters were buffoon Captain Mainwaring, Lance-Corporal Jones (the butcher) whose catch phrase was “Don’t panic”, mummy’s boy Private Pike and dithering Sergeant Wilson.

Graeme Jay, who is on the fire fighters executive council and a captain of Glossodia Rural Fire Brigade with 17 years experience as a firefighter who was at the November meeting said the comparison to the fools portrayed on Dad’s Army was “downright offensive”.

“There was considerable angst in the meeting last Saturday that we were being portrayed in that fashion,” he said. “There was no explanation by Mr Elliott at the time what he meant by it.”

“When challenged he tried to back pedal by saying you guys can’t operate aircraft. He tried to back away from the comment quite quickly but we weren’t talking about aircraft at the time. It was clear to us in the room what he meant, basically he was having a shot at volunteers as being a Dad’s Army. We never really gave him a hard time about it at the time because we were all in shock.

“If he wants to offer an explanation, we are all reasonable people, we are happy to hear it.”

Volunteer fire fighter Vice President Mick Holton said the matter was raised on Saturday in front of a representative attending the meeting on behalf of shadow emergency services minister Guy Zangari and Opposition Leader Luke Foley.

The members thought it was poor form and a little bit foolish on Mr Elliott’s part, he said.

“The volunteers feel that the minister ought to clarify what he meant by that comment and either offer an apology or an explanation.”

Documents sent to the shadow minister for emergency services state: “… Minister Elliott told us that with such a rapid level of technology within the Royal Fire Service, more qualified salaried people will have to be sought, which means it won’t be long before we do away with the Dad’s Army.”

Mr Zangari said that it was a slap in the face to people who put their lives on the line, leave their families and go into risky and dangerous situations for the betterment of the community.

Mr Zangari told Fairfax Media: “The minister needs to face up to what he said. It is a massive kick in the guts for those men and women who don’t go out there seeking glory.

“They go out there to help other people and to have the minister of the Crown say that about these people is disappointing and he needs to show some appreciation of these people. Our country was built on the back of volunteers.”

Mr Elliott said his comments were intended to reflect the importance of the established command structure with an analogy that you don’t require a general to consult with Dad’s Army during battle.

“The need for a full-time permanent command structure reflects the professional and highly-skilled volunteer base of the NSW RFS, which is supported by a record budget and modern firefighting equipment,” he said.

“Volunteers are a critical part of all NSW RFS operations and I would never seek to undermine their role.”

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3 thoughts on “Don’t panic: Volunteer fire fighters say minister compared them to Dad’s Army

  • April 10, 2016 at 7:24 am
    Permalink

    Tim Barrass’s piece in the Sunday Herald on the Rural Fire Service has the minister comparing volunteers to ‘Dad’s Army.’ This shows just how far removed and detached Mr Elliott has become from reality.

    Grass roots volunteers see the RFS hierachy as a self serving industry. Bushfires are merely a chance for them to work the media and needlessly
    waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars in building their career pathways.

    Bushfire control is best achieved by delegation of all decision making to experienced local fire captains. The community trusts them. These grass roots unpaid volunteers want to get rid of fire fuel by burning off during the winter but the RFS structure makes it almost impossible.

    Oh! The RFS has a media muzzle on volunteers to stop them letting the public know the truth.

  • April 11, 2016 at 6:19 am
    Permalink

    The reference to volunteer firefighters as “Dads Army” by NSW Minister for Emergency Services David Elliott is a slur that is a refection of the calibre and irrelevance of the Minister and his advisory staff rather than indicative of the depth of experience and professionalism, the capacity to proactively and effectively manage fire risk within the membership of our volunteer firefighters.

    Their dedication to community safety to avoid the spectacle of satellite TV news witnessed mass extinction events of the bonfire builders. Paid highly, rewarded for policy failure by comparison to experienced and strategic “volunteers” avoiding the disaster down spiral of generating a hot fire cycle where intense burns bring up fire weeds for the future calamity. Burn down Federation homes in the Blue Mountains, 150+ year old huts in the high country, fill gullies and reservoirs with soot!

    Industrial gadgetry and boy’s toys being applied to a fire suppression industry is out of step with traditional fire risk mitigation integrated land management multicultural approaches tried and proven effective for up to 60000 years in Australia, the most fire and drought prone country in the world and one of the most species diverse until recently when self appointed ‘experts’ mastered control of our forests and rural lands to serially incinerate. These same experts are in charge of keeping the ‘species obituary list’ rewarding themselves for more bad advice to government. Fire suppression, no graze dingo hugging, no burners, no loggers, seaside academic closed minded groupies come to incinerate their adopted nation. They all live close to the ocean in case they have to evacuate and swim to New Zealand in the event of fire.

    Apparently management of fire risk through proactive benign fuel reduction is too subtle for the Minister where timely cool fire, big plant eating animal activity preparing a fire safe vegetation to cool burn, the mimickery achievable by bushmen with selective logging based forest operations is something our city centric mostly migrant population clustered on the coastal strip wish to ignore about their adopted country. If there is money and political mileage to be had by media event bonfires in drought summers, maximal fuel it’s apparently worth doing.

    More boy’s toys, more fuel, bigger fires, bigger budgets, greater social, economic ecological cost to the public and rural lands. Ego building photo opportunities with bigger trucks, bigger DC spray units, more fire insurance premiums, fire levies extorted from the public as the fuel loads build ever higher off setting the city carbon overdraft for the number crunchers. It all sounds like a Dads Army script as the candle bark accumulates around the city glass skyscrapers. NSW buries itself in flammable dead vegetation. How advanced are we?

    The grass roots volunteer membership are some of the few aware of the folly and impending disaster. Obstructed and frustrated, prevented to do anything to arrest stupidity by graduate clerks bedecked in their finery seaside. Ears and minds closed to proven effective wisdom. How the use of their technology could be made more useful if integrated with applying hazard reduction methodologies rather than blindly building bonfires with layers and layers of gadgetry paid for by a gullible misled mostly urban public. More fuel more fire is fairly basic concept however the slur and scorn by the Minister to receive the benefit of all his constituents raises significant concern about the relevance of his office, now and into the future. Perhaps he should consider issue ‘Tiger moth biplanes’ for his own staff.

    No fuel management no airport. Back to the horse and matches is still relevant to maintain the capacity of modern gadgetry to deal with modest fuel and fire challenge and remain effective. Less fuel less layers of gadgetry and expense for the people and the ecology. If Minister Elliott less disrespectful perhaps progress could be made on the subject. Good Governance of NSW could occur!

  • May 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm
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    Incredible incompetence in the RFS bureaucracy isn’t limited to allowing huge fuel loads to build up.
    They also don’t care about the well being of volunteers. Members are exposed to significant health risks whenever smoke is encountered as the polypropylene P2 disposable masks are quite unsuitable for bushfire fighting.
    There is an Australian designed alternative which hundreds of NSW RFS brigades have purchased themselves: the Fair Air fire mask.
    NSW RFS are quite aware of this world leading product as it was presented the last time the RFS tendered for PPE. It was deemed a non-conforming tender response because a disposable mask was also not offered!
    Then within a year there was a Workcover investigation into the hospitalisation of four firefighters with smoke inhalation. The RFS ‘solution’ – issuing more disposables and a more comprehensive injury report form……..
    In the meantime the Fair Air mask has been proven at numerous fires in every state and territory plus New Zealand, USA, Brunei, and Canada. http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3903560/demand-for-masks-as-blazes-rage/?cs=80

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