April 16, 2015, 8:47 a.m.
MOREE is leading a charge to help volunteers respond to life and death situations.
RFS volunteers Rob and Rhonda Gallagher with membership officer Steve Carstens at the Moree fire control centre.
Council will take a motion to Canberra this June calling on state and federal governments to encourage businesses to support their volunteer staff to respond to emergency situations.
Councillor John Tramby raised the issue at last week’s council meeting, saying rural firefighters were not only volunteering their time to save lives and properties – sometimes they were taking a financial hit to do so.
“The traditional responsibilities of rural firefighters has changed,” Cr Tramby said. “The service was created to respond to bushfires and fires on properties and farms.
“Now the vast majority of work is attending motor vehicle accidents, stolen vehicles and deliberately lit fires on crown lands and by the side of the road.”
A member of the Gurley RFS for more than 50 years, Cr Tramby said the new responsibilities meant response time was more crucial than ever before.
“Before you might look at a fire in the hills for a few days while deciding how to respond,” he said. “Now you are talking about cases in which someone is trapped in a car which could burst into flames at any moment.”
The RFS was now being called to attend house fires in rural villages, Cr Tramby said.
“The saying is that if you get there in seven minutes you can save the room and in 10 minutes you can save the house but if you get there in 15 minutes you won’t save anything.”
In both his most recent outings with the Gurley RFS, Cr Tramby said some volunteers took a hit in their pay to be there. One volunteer was given a day off without pay following all night spent at an accident.
Cr Tramby stressed he was not advocating that volunteers be paid but that they were – where appropriate – allowed to respond instantly to emergencies without losing pay.
He suggested a federal government tax rebate whereby businesses were compensated for allowing their workers time off to volunteer.
Moree district services officer membership Steve Carstens said the RFS had built a strong relationship with the council and with many local businesses.
He said the organisation had identified working with employers across the state as a priority and that a number of programs were in place to reward those which went above and beyond to support volunteer staff.
“The benefits go both ways,” Mr Carstens said. “By having active RFS volunteers on staff businesses get employees who are better leaders, better organised and better at working in teams.”
Councillor Sue Price will take Mr Tramby’s motion to Canberra this July when she represents the council at the 2015 National General Assembly of Local Government.