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We all seem happy, but are we all really happy under the current arrangements?

We all seem happy, but are we all really happy under the current arrangements?

The VFFA is concerned that the voices of all persons (including our volunteer firefighters) is being muffled at the hands of political influence and manipulation.

How many government inquiries does it take to bring about change?

The issues surrounding turf wars have been around for a long time but those with empires to build don’t wish to discuss options.

A Trigger Point for Change

The NSW Government have never been able to settle upon a trigger point that is used to activate a change in firefighter engagement.

For example: As a rural area develops and the population explodes or major industry is established, it may be appropriate to consider a shift from volunteer to part-time firefighter engagement. Further development may lead to a shift from part-time to full-time engagement.

Expanding the type of firefighter engagement has nothing to do with the level of professionalism, it is all about have a healthy respect for the work that our volunteers do. There comes a time where we are expecting too much. It has been suggested by many volunteers that they are sick of being over used as a type of cheap option for the NSW State Government.

The VFFA is not wanting to see our volunteers tossed away when the trigger point is reached, we see some advantages in developing career path options for these people.

The VFFA is also happy to admit that we don’t have all the answers, but we do promote upfront, open and honest debate on this issue.

VFFA President, Mick Holton discussed the turf wars issue on air with Shoalhaven CBF – Barry, Frenchie, Bec and Chance Hanlon:

 

What the RFSA has said:


Volunteer Fire Fighters reject calls for “one single fire service”
Wednesday, 21 March 2018

(Click HERE to view on the RFSA web site)

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA) strongly opposes any plans to establish a single fire-fighting agency and any attempt to affect the volunteer culture of the NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) through union influence as witnessed in Victoria.

RFSA President Ken Middleton said any attempts to create one fire service in New South Wales would significantly undermine the ability to provide ongoing fire protection to rural communities across the State.

“Under existing co-operative fire-fighting arrangements, there are clearly stated protocols in place for response to incidents within the urban rural interface,” Mr Middleton said.

“These protocols have the agreement of both the NSW RFS and Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW).

“In addition The Fire Services Joint Standing Committee (FSJSC) is a Statutory Committee that comprises representatives from the NSW RFS, FRNSW, the RFSA and the Fire Brigade Employees Union (FBEU).

“Through the FSJSC there are specific procedures in place regarding response to incidents within the urban rural interface. Given the joint participation of related fire management agencies and member representatives it is now difficult to understand the push for a single agency.

“Whilst the RFSA supports the announcements of a referral to the Coroner and an independent review, it is adamant that the formation of a single agency would erode volunteer culture and commitment, thereby jeopardising property protection throughout New South Wales.

“This would also lead to a breakdown of local community relationships and support as well as increasing the cost to Government and ultimately the community.

“Our members serve in the world’s largest volunteer fire fighting agency – covering a massive distance from suburban Sydney to the most remote bushland parts of the state.

“They are locals who drop everything during an emergency to assist their communities, saving lives and homes during fire disasters.

“They are some of the most highly skilled and highly trained volunteers in the world, and their efforts are remarkably valuable. In fact, a 2011 report by Deloitte found volunteers provide services to the people of New South Wales and the State Government to the value of $1.3 billion each year.

“We all know why we need volunteers – New South Wales is a huge state with remote and difficult to access bushland areas.

“While we work well alongside FRNSW on a daily basis, we are not the same organisation. Our vehicles, equipment, safety gear, operations and the demands we face are significantly different.

“Combining the firefighting agencies into one single agency would not be practical. Volunteers are from local areas, they make the decisions on the ground because they know the terrain and conditions better than anyone.

“Our volunteers do an amazing job protecting the people of New South Wales. It’s a job they love and volunteer their time to do.

“The RFSA will fight any plans for a ‘single fire service’ and, having heard from members across the state, they too will robustly oppose any plan to change the current system which has a proven record of saving lives.”


Rural Firefighters provide valuable feedback for Independent Review
Tuesday, 17 April 2018

(Click HERE to view on the RFSA web site)

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA) is thanking rural firefighters across NSW for the feedback that they are providing on the review into the response to the Reedy Swamp fire Bega that occurred on 18 March 2018, and subsequently impacted on the township of Tathra.

RFSA President, Ken Middleton said the feedback received was constructive and would inform the RFSA’s response to the Keelty Commission of Inquiry.

“I want to thank our members for the insights they have provided to us in regards to the review into the recent Bega Valley bush fire,” Mr Middleton said.

“Our members serve in the world’s largest volunteer fire fighting agency and they know their ‘patch’ better than anyone else.

“This means they are best placed to advise on issues impacting their local areas.

“Throughout the feedback it is obvious that NSW RFS members simply want the best for their communities.

“Their comments reinforce our members’ commitment to do whatever needs to be done to ensure the safety of the people of NSW in the most efficient manner possible.”

Middleton said volunteer firefighters are adamant about the importance of maintaining their autonomy and culture, but recognised the opportunity to drive further improvements in service delivery.

“Our members have clearly stated the importance of the NSW RFS remaining an autonomous agency due to its training, specific equipment and volunteer firefighter ethos,” he said.

“But there is also support for driving improvements, such as vehicle tracking as it adds to crew safety.”

Mr Middleton also reiterated the valuable role volunteer firefighters play in keeping NSW safe.

“Our members are locals who will drop everything during an emergency to assist their communities, saving lives and homes during fire disasters.

“They are some of the most highly skilled and highly trained volunteers in the world, and their efforts are remarkably valuable. In fact, a 2011 report by Deloitte found volunteers provide services to the people of New South Wales and the State Government to the value of $1.3 billion each year.”


NSW Rural Fire Service – Operational Brief

The NSW RFS Operational Brief (dated April 2018) seems contradictory.

Paragraph 3 states that the existing arrangements and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the fire services does not change but there are changes as detailed in the paragraphs that follow, including:

  • Refinements and enhancements to the process of passing triple zero calls
  • Responding the nearest resource
  • Consideration to timings and capability

Click the pdf icon below to view the NSW RFS Operational Brief.

NSW RFS Operational Brief - April 2018 - Dispatch Arrangements

Your comments are most welcome.

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10 thoughts on “Being Upfront and Open about Turf Wars

  • April 26, 2018 at 6:38 am
    Permalink

    This comment received by email on 6th April 2018.

    With reference to hazard reduction, I would suggest that the green influence needs to be addressed.

    The weather conditions on the day of the Tathra fire should have obvious to a Bush Firefighter (BF) qualified member. One would expect that a Bushfire Behavioural Analyst (BBA) would have known that any fire was going to move unpredictably, quickly, and it would have been obvious the direction in which it would travel.

    Many members of the public and certainly most local RFS members would have known that the Bega River would be unlikely to stop the progress of the fire, given the fuel loads, temperature and wind speed. It would seem obvious that this fire would threaten homes on the south side of the River then the urban interface then the Village itself.

    In my opinion, Tathra needed and deserved all the help it could get on that day.

    Regards
    Concerned RFS Firefighter
    Not willing to provide my name for fear of retribution

  • April 26, 2018 at 6:48 am
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    This comment received by email on 6th April 2018.

    Hi I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a fire fighter with both organisations over the last 17 years and I am currently an active RFS officer.

    I do believe at any bush/grass fire where there is any risk to property, Fire and Rescue NSW should be automatically responded by the call centre operator.

    Whilst the Fire and Rescue crews may not be equipped to fight the main fire they are invaluable for property protection freeing up off-road appliances to combat the main fire.

    Regards
    Ben

  • April 26, 2018 at 7:00 am
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    This comment received by email on 6th April 2018.

    The NSW Government clearly doesn’t want Keelty to address fuel load reduction and other critical issues.

    Also note the timeline! This is a disgrace.

    Best regards
    Ross

    VFFA Note:
    Timeline referring to the RFSA request titled “Input Sought – Keelty Inquiry. Your Input is Important”.
    Dated 4 April 2018
    Submissions should be emailed to: submissions@rfsa.org.au by Wednesday 11 April 2018.
    Only one week to make a submission.

  • April 26, 2018 at 7:18 am
    Permalink

    This comment received by email on 8th April 2018.

    My point. Its been a sad outcome with so many homes lost and the amount of sour media coverage. I feel I need to say something (Even thou I was NOT at this Fire).

    My experience up our way, we have worked closely with FRNSW on fire ground, structure, Homes, sheds, bushfires etc. Many times.

    Way we work up here and trained, is whom ever brigade gets onsite they are the no 1 brigade on site and set up control name and point. And if its an MVA, structure or village fire, depending again on seriousness we automatically offer to hand over control to FRNSW when they arrive if they choose to accept control depending on seriousness. If we arrive first and, as they are the experts in this situation (and yes we in the RFS are trained in MVA, Village Fires and structures and have crew CABA qualified and fully trained) and RFS backs up the FRNSW with extra water resources, and CABA or any other requests. Now being in a rural part of coast have a lot of bushland and we had FRNSW arrive first and set up control and generally RFS take over if we requested to, as we the experts in bushfires and the FRNSW backs us up with resources. We complement each other by helping with no problem.

    Now as a lot of folks in the media have got NO IDEA etc. FRNSW DO NOT carry much water, if any at all, as they must use town water Hydrants or nearby static water and or supply by RFS Tankers. We have always worked hand in hand with each other and we respect each other. We have members whom been involved as members with FRNSW and moved from town to a small village and vice Versa, RFS members joining FRNSW etc.

    On the fire ground, the situation can unfold extremely fast and catch folks unaware, which I surmises what happened down south. Situational Awareness, we are all human and easy, very easy to miss important signs where and how the fire is spreading. Don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know this. BUT media Portrayed an evil ideology amongst RFS which I find offensive. I’m proud to say, I have worked and associated with many many RFS and FRNSW members over many years and I stand by RFS and FRNSW and take my hat off to all.

    I think a strong point to sum it up. If FRNSW was called into this Tathra Bush fire, what more could they have been done and, generally they don’t carry much or any water at all.

    Craig

  • April 26, 2018 at 7:20 am
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    This comment received by email on 8th April 2018.

    As a long term member of the RFSA and a veteran volunteer fire fighter of 50 years I would like make comment on the 2018 Tathra fire.

    Under the terms of reference for the Mr Keelty inquiry:

    1. Review and report on the adequacy of the fire services response.
    To understand the adequacy of the response we must first understand the fire ground conditions.
    Fuel loads are the major contributing factor to intense uncontrollable wild fires.
    Man has no control over the prevailing weather conditions, but we do have control over the fuel loads.
    Scientific evidence reveals bush fires burning in 15 year old fuels are approx 17 times hotter than fire burning in 5 year old fuels.
    So on a bad fire weather day high fuel loads quickly escalate into an uncontrollable wild fire.
    The Victorian Royal Commission recommended a minimum of 5% of fire prone lands be treated annually.
    In NSW over the last 20 years, we have been treating less than an average of 1% of fire prone lands by prescribed burning.
    At 1% it would take 100 years to treat our fire prone lands once.
    Uncontrollable wild fires destroy lives, property, infrastructure, the environment and is simply not sustainable.

    2. Review the call taking and despatch arrangements for both fire services.
    In an emergency all available fire vehicles regardless of their agency should be responded.
    I have been involved in many large fire campaigns over many years and I have never seen any conflict between RFS volunteer fire fighters and Fire and Rescue personnel on the fire ground.
    I believe the so called ‘turf war’ is confined to the senior management level.
    The protection of agency ‘turf’ seems to have taken the focus away from the best possible fire outcome for the community and the environment.

    Brian Williams.

  • April 26, 2018 at 8:04 am
    Permalink

    This comment received by email on 11th April 2018.

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide comment into the RFSA’s input into the ‘Keelty Inquiry’.

    Our Brigade (RFS) considers that it has an excellent working relationship with Fire and Rescue NSW. This is no doubt due in part to the fact that both organisations consist of members who serve(d) in the NSWRFS and FRNSW.

    FRNSW and our Brigade have assisted each other at MVA, house and bushfires. There is no apparent clash of cultures and working relationships are good.

    Our Brigade takes the lead in rural fire matters and acts as necessary at other incidents (MVA’s, house fires etc). If FRNSW attend, then Operational officers discuss allocation of tasks and resources. If FRNSW have the required expertise a mutual course of action is agreed.

    Our Brigade looks forward to continuing a shared working relationship with FRNSW.

    In response to specific items:-
    a. Issues with call-outs to incidents (see above). In the case of rural MVA’s, FRNSW may be advised before NSWRFS. The delay between advising FRNSW and then the local RFS brigade could lead to serious consequences. That being said both organisations work together at MVA incidents.
    b. Territory issues – none noted by NCVBFB
    c. Views on vehicle tracking – if developed as a support and safety mechanism then our Brigade has no issues.
    d. The proposal for FRNSW to take over despatch and control of NSW RFS vehicles – this is not supported. Local NSWRFS know their country and special issues inherent. This knowledge ensures that NSWRFS resources are allocated quickly and any necessary back-up strategies put in place (i.e. other brigades notified etc). FRNSW may not have the necessary ‘local knowledge’.
    e. Feedback (both good and bad) on your relationship with FRNSW. As noted above, our Brigade considers that it has an excellent working relationship with FRNSW. At MVA’s FRNSW attend to drivers, passengers etc, and any ‘rescue’ situations. Our Brigade ensures fire suppression an, if necessary, control of the site.

    It may be of benefit if FRNSW in some locations were to gain additional training in the suppression of bush and grass fires, in the same way that many members of NSWRFS will gain training in fighting structural fires. In addition to this, many of the appliances used by FRNSW are not suited to the rural conditions and may become a hindrance rather than an asset in bush fire conditions. Ensuring the correct appliances are used at the correct locations is critical in this matter (see also comments d. above).

    In instances where NSWRFS is called in to assist in an urban environment then FRNSW should be regarded as lead agency. Where incidents involve the rural area then NSWRFS should be considered the lead agency. This could mean that first on scene may consider relinquishing control to the organisation having the greater experience. Regardless both services should work together for a positive outcome. This ensures the greatest expertise is being used to fight the fires. This needs to occur both at operational level and on the fire ground by crew leaders.

    The potential for both groups to perform training exercises together where possible would be of benefit to ensure that both services are competent in the suppression of fire under different conditions, and for members to defer to the correct authority of knowledge dependent on the conditions.

    Bruce
    For Secretary of our Brigade

  • April 26, 2018 at 8:27 am
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    This comment is an overall conclusion – Keelty Inquiry, 11th April 2018.

    The RFS is a NSW success story and the relationship with FRNSW works very well in the main. But, this success needs protection as demonstrated by the attack on the volunteer
    system within CFA. Our successes are not well praised as small fires that are quickly and effectively extinguished are not newsworthy.

    Whilst I agree that sections of NSW need to be handed over to FRNSW for primary response, those areas are key recruitment areas for volunteers within a dwindling volunteering
    environment. A mutual agreement that acknowledges these recruitment areas and access to practical experience needs to be entered into.

    Volunteering to fight bushfires is very rare by world standards and saves the community hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It needs to be protected and nurtured because tax payers simply could not afford to replace us.

    Daniel

  • April 26, 2018 at 8:41 am
    Permalink

    This comment received by email on 12th April 2018.

    As a long term member of the RFSA and veteran volunteer fire fighter of 50 years I would like to make comment on the 2018 Tathra fire.

    Tathra was a disaster that has had devastating results.

    I believe the most important question the Keelty Inquiry needs to investigate is why Tathras Fire Risk Management Plan produced such a poor outcome for 69 families.

    Why have several Fire Risk Management Plans in NSW produced poor outcomes?
    The public and the environment deserve better.
    Should there be an urgent independent audit of all Fire Risk Management Plans? Surely we can do better.

    I’d also like to make comment on the ‘turf war’.
    I have been involved in many large fire campaigns over many years and I have never seen any conflict between volunteer fire fighters and Fire and Rescue staff on the fire ground.
    I believe the so called ‘turf war’ is confined to the senior management level.
    The protection of agency ‘turf’ seems to have taken the focus away from the best possible fire outcome for the community and the environment.

    Thank you for conducting this inquiry and I would be happy to appear before the inquiry at Mr. Keeltys convenience.

    Yours Sincerely
    Brian Williams.

  • April 26, 2018 at 9:01 am
    Permalink

    This email content sent to authors of RFSA submissions – 20th April 2018

    From: submissions [mailto:submissions@rfsa.org.au]
    Sent: Friday, 20 April 2018
    To: submissions
    Subject: RFSA Submission to the Bega Valley Bush Fire Independent Review

    Dear Member,

    On behalf of the Association, I would like to thank you for taking the time to respond to our request for input into the Bega Valley Bush Fire Independent Review. It was encouraging to see the constructive nature of the comments and the effort put into the responses despite the short timeframe. Your comments have been invaluable in putting forward a coordinated response on behalf of our members.

    Yesterday, Vice President Brian McDonough and I met with Mr Keelty to have an open and frank discussion about our submission and the Inquiry. I feel confident that Mr Keelty will find the Association’s response beneficial in drawing a conclusion and making recommendations.

    We will release a brief summary of our submission in the coming weeks.

    Thank you again for providing your input.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Middleton
    President

  • April 26, 2018 at 9:03 am
    Permalink

    The VFFA is concerned that the BRIEF summary will be brief in terms of substance and content. I would encourage Mr Middleton to publish a summary that is open and transparent.

    Regards Mick Holton
    President VFFA

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