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The Bega Valley Fire Independent Review

Click the image (above) to download a copy of the Bega Valley Fire Independent Review by Mick Keelty

July 19, 2018

The Bega Valley Fires Independent Review was commissioned by the NSW State Government in response to public pressure and media interest in the Reedy Swamp Fire that occurred on 18 March 2018, and subsequently impacted on the township of Tathra.

The media reported a long-standing turf war between the two predominant fire services in NSW and the Minister for Police and Emergency Services responded with an announcement that Mr Keelty will be conducting a full review for the government so that we don’t get these questions in the future.

The VFFA welcomes any opportunity to openly and transparently review and debate topics that impact upon public safety and the provision of emergency services to the people of NSW.

The following VFFA response to this review is provided:

  • The terms of reference, as directed by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services were not broad enough, they did not address the root causes of this disaster to provide the best possible service delivery to the community of NSW.
  • The review is totally disconnectedfrom country and has dangerous false concepts that are made from not knowing the land.  Both fire services would be wise to consult with and learn from Indigenous land management experts.
  • There is no mention of the case study where the Tathra fires did not burn previously treated, cultural burn areas. Visit https://vimeo.com/270076279to learn more.
  • The review has suggested that a single, civilianised call and dispatch centre could be linked to the future move of the RFS communications centre to new premises. The VFFA is supportive of a civilianised call and dispatch centre, but we are concerned that this location is too close to RFS influence and will only serve to exacerbate the turf war issues.
  • Mr Keelty has taken a completely different tack to that used in the QLD review, recommending amalgamation. QLD Rural Fire Service is now part of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
  • It is highly probable that this review was influenced by the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Mr Troy Grant or sanitized before its release.
  • It appears that the review was withheld until its release suited the NSW Government, the RFS and the RFSA. It is interesting that it was released just in time for the RFSA conference at Rose Hill Race Course.
  • The fact that both Commissioners have stood by and allowed middle management to take the heat for the issues raised in this review in nothing short of treachery. Any decent leader would accept blame, then work towards changing cultural issues that exist.
  • You can’t have two fire bosses. The VFFA recommends a move in the same direction to that of the QLD model. This can be achieved as a staged implementation over a number of years. A single service model has the potential to create career pathways between volunteer, part-time and full-time service.

Indigenous Land Management and Cultural Burning

The VFFA recommends that both fire services engage Indigenous land management and cultural burning experts to advise, supervise and monitor land management, hazard reduction and cultural burning practices in NSW.

The Aboriginal Land Council has young people burning country on the South Coast (right now) in a bid to prevent wild fires like the Tathra example and healing the area with native vegetation instead of dead leaves and rubbish.  These young people are only in their early twenties and already more connected to the country than most of the highly paid fire experts involved in this turf war. These young people are doing this work with no wages, no vehicles, and no firefighting equipment at all.

Indigenous people are working in the Tathra area, burning the affected areas to prevent invasive native regrowth which makes the country full of fuel and the next fires far worse.

This is the first project of its kind in modern history in the recovery of torched country.

Indigenous land management expert, Victor Steffensen has been engaged in burning activities all over Australia this year. He says that “the window to burn is huge if you know how to read the country”.

Management of our National Parks

The VFFA recommends that more Indigenous Australians are engaged to influence, advise, supervise and monitor the management of our National Parks.

The lessons to be learned extend way beyond bush fire mitigation and hazard reduction.

Increasing the involvement of Indigenous Australians in the management of our National Parks should occur as a matter of priority.

Trigger Points that lead to Service Delivery Changes

At no time has the NSW State Government settled upon appropriate trigger points that lead to changes in service delivery models across NSW for the fire services. At what point should a fire service in a particular area, staffed by volunteers (unpaid workers for the State of NSW) be resourced with paid part-time workers (retained firefighters) and at what point should a fire service in a particular area be resourced with paid full-time firefighters. These trigger points could also be used in reverse to review existing arrangements where it may be necessary to discontinue the engagement of full-time or part-time firefighters and engage volunteers. This is a sensible and balanced approach that strives to avoid placing too much pressure on volunteers and part-time firefighters.

Our volunteers and part-time engaged emergency service workers are a valuable resource for the State of NSW, we need to support and respect them for the tremendous work they do.

The Bega Valley Fires Independent Review was conducted quickly, why are we still waiting for an inquiry into the Sir Ivan fire that ripped the heart out of many rural people, farmers and graziers?

Perhaps the answer to that question is linked to the demographics of each area. One could be forgiven for thinking that the further away from the coast you live, the less important you are to the NSW State Government and mainstream media.

For more information, please contact:
VFFA President, Mick Holton on 0428 985 468 or
VFFA Vice President, Brian Williams on (02) 4567 0216

Downloads

VFFA Media Release – response to the Bega Valley Fires Independent Review.pdf
VFFA Attachment – Response to the Bega Valley Fires Independent Review.pdf
Bega Valley Fire Independent Review.pdf

 

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3 thoughts on “VFFA response to the Bega Valley Fires Independent Review

  • July 24, 2018 at 12:25 pm
    Permalink

    Dear Mr Holton,
    Thank you for talking with me last Thursday (10 July 2018) about my questions of VFFA regarding the Independent Review of the Tathra fires by Commissioner Keelty.
    The main answer to my query appears to be that the Bushfire Risk Management Plan (BFRMP) applicable to the Tathra area on 18 March 2018 was not addressed by Commissioner Keelty.
    The VFFA’s questions to Commissioner Keelty regarding the BFRMP appear not to have been addressed either.
    The Terms of Reference of Commissioner Keelty’s review are at Annexe A of his report. Amongst a number of objectives, these required the Commissioner to assess the adequacy of firefighting response Without auditing the relevant Bushfire Risk Management Plan (Bega Valley BFRMP of 9 June 2010) I suggest Commissioner Keelty could not have comprehensively assessed the adequacy of response. The applicable BFRMP is an element of the response.
    NSW RFS guidance on BFRMP is promulgated here: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/9603/Policy-1-2008-Annex-B-Bush-Fire-Risk-Management-Plan-Guidelines.pdf
    The conduct of Performance audits of BFRMP are covered at Division 6 Note 62 A of the NSW Rural Fires Act 1997 No 65. Preparation of and public participation in, preparing BFRMP are covered at Division 4 and 5 of the Rural Fires Act respectively.
    There is no indication that the Bega BFRMP has been reviewed since its promulgation in 2010.
    Was the prescribed consultation with the public conducted when the plan was drafted? And, were the risk treatments specific to Tathra at pages 27 and 37 of the Bega plan implemented and viable on 18 March 2018? How effective were they in reducing the likelihood and severity of fire?
    My questions above are basic and not intended to imply cause or blame of any kind. I am merely keen to see the tools of the NSW RFS including the prescribed and well proven risk management process employed to reduce public risk of harm by bushfire in an environment when authority seem to rely too heavily and quickly upon ‘climate change’ as a cause which could not be mitigated on the day. There is a hint of that in Commissioner Keelty’s report.
    Yours sincerely,
    Cris George

  • July 24, 2018 at 7:16 pm
    Permalink

    Dear Mick,
    I have looked at and listened to the most interesting interview of RFS Commissioner Fitzsimmons. He implies that the fire rating applying to Tathra on 18 October 2017 was in excess of RFS guidance on fire spread prediction for that region of NSW. Was that actually the case?
    And have the excellent tools RFS makes available for managing bush fire risk and Australian Standards providing for bushfire risk management (principally AS 3959) been reviewed and upgraded since as an outcome?
    Did the AFZ and SFAZ prescribed by the Bega Bushfire Risk Management Plan (BFRMP) therefore provide insufficient clearance presuming these complied with the specification of RFS? And were other controls overcome because the fire was not foreseen in terms of predictable bushfire?
    A further question which has concerned me for a number of years as a rural property owner in the Shoalhaven is: Did the Bega Shire’s tree preservation policy prevent clearance of vegetation such that fire risk to property owners during the fire was increased either directly or indirectly?
    I acknowledge that this final question is probably outside the scope of your website.
    Regards
    Cris George

  • July 25, 2018 at 2:18 pm
    Permalink

    Cris
    The conditions on the day were definitely not the bulk of the problem.
    The Tathra fire was a big problem because of fuel and wind. Fuel is the only aspect that we can deal with.
    You may be interested in the following links:
    https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/vffa-response-bega-valley-fires-independent-review
    and
    https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/tathra-bushfire-indigenous-burning-story
    I have been told by a well known fire scientist that small boundaries of fuel reduced area (AFZ and SFAZ) are not effective on a bad day. Broadacre land management treatments are required.
    I’m not able to comment on the tree preservation and vegetation clearing policies that may or may not have contributed to this disaster because I don’t have access to that information.
    Regards
    Mick Holton

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