This article is an opinion piece, published in The Land Newspaper 29th Sept 2019.

In the article, Mal Peters and the VFFA were attacked on social media for the reference to Greg Mullins, as former chief of NSW RFS. The VFFA believes this to be an editorial error rather than an error by Mr. Peters.

Regardless of who made the error, Greg Mullins was former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW). Mr. Mullins is a thoroughly decent man just like Mal Peters. Mr. Mullins has made some statements that have upset some farmers and he has made climate change comments without referencing the massive fuel load issues that we face today.

Mr. Mullins has now retired from the fire service, he can hold his head high because he has achieved many great outcomes for FRNSW and the people of NSW.

The VFFA encourages open discussion so that we can move forward. We all have the right to free speech and we should give everyone a chance to have their say.

Over to you, Mal…

Click HERE or the logo (above) to view the original article.

Opinion: Mal Peters reckons most times, you need a good dose of commonsense

From the Back Paddock, Mal Peters 29 Sep 2019, 10:30 a.m.

The Rural Fire Service has become a behemoth that could do well to lower its sights a little, writes Mal Peters, who helped found the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association.

Like many farmers I have been fighting bushfires for over 40 years doing no more than any farmer in helping neighbours.

But in that time I have watched the Rural Fire Service (RFS) develop into a mega bureaucracy that is probably justified in the hinterland of cities and towns but appears overly bureaucratic and expensive around broadacre farms.

Generalisations always get you into trouble, but I think it’s fair to say that within 30 kilometres of most towns are those predominantly smaller blocks, affectionately known as “blockies”. 

These poor buggers are prevented from making decent fire breaks because of native vegetation laws.

Couple that with being next door to public land – which in some cases doesn’t have stock grazing – fuel loads can become a problem.

I don’t like it when farmers’ reputations are smeared, as they were during a recent episode of The Drum on ABC television where I was a fellow panellist with Greg Mullins, a former chief of NSW RFS Commissioner of FRNSW. 

The discussion was about the perennial problem of fuel reduction burns and I expressed the opinion the RFS had clamped the window so tightly on fire permits it was difficult to mange fuel loads.

Mr Mullins then said farmers often allowed fires to get away and burn national parks.

My experience doesn’t suggest that, so I asked if he knew whether the alleged offenders were broadacre farmers or blockies.

He then said there were no blockies around Tenterfield.

I reckon there’s hundreds.

As the RFS expanded, tensions developed between farmers and the paid staff, and I was proud to be part of the establishment of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) when Peter Cannon started it trying to counter the RFS Association.

Another concern of farmers is the huge cost of the RFS and with people like Greg Mullins advocating for 30 fire-fighting jets the cost will only grow. 

The RFS has become an unassailable empire that is paid for by our insurance levee (73%), the stamp duty on that levee (16%) and local government rates (11%). 

So don’t thank state governments – those paying insurance and rates are stumping up for the bill. 

A recent move to tie the charges to council rates was dropped by the NSW government after it spent $25 million exploring stuff without much explanation of anything it found out. 

That would have brought in the 10% of people who do not insure buildings and 35% not insuring contents.

Nobody questions the value of the RFS in urban and town hinterlands, but farmers worry about the exponential increase in our fire levy and council rates.

If the RFS plans to buy 30 big jets it will only get worse.

It is time the state government put the brakes on spending.

Mal Peters

The Empirical Ways of the Rural Fire Service
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3 thoughts on “The Empirical Ways of the Rural Fire Service

  • November 1, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Mal Peters is 100% correct.

    The RFS has become a city centric bureaucratic behemoth.

    There is a clear disconnect between the RFS head office bureaucrats with all their braid and rural farmers.

    Mother Nature is laughing at the RFS and the NPWS bureaucracy with their multiple layers of rules and regulations that act as a restraint on hazard reduction by starting landscape fires with monotonous regularity on the NSW North Coast via lighting strikes

  • November 24, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters is a critical challenge for the rural fire service, where the majority of departments rely on volunteers. According to NFPA s 2015 U.S. Fire Department Profile, 70 percent of firefighters nationwide are volunteers, and about 85 percent of departments were either all-volunteer or mostly volunteer. (Majority-volunteer departments are also found in suburban areas, not just rural ones.)

  • January 4, 2020 at 9:44 am

    In years past people could pack a thermos and a sandwich put the trailer on the car and drive out to the country and collect dropped wood from the side of the road for there winter fires. It helped pensioners and gave them a day out. Recently I went to Echuca and the amount of fuel on the side of the road was enormous. It was commented at the time not good if a fire went through. But today not allowed to collect. What a shame

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