What have we become?

I love the simplicity, culture and attitudes of my local Bushfire Brigade. The members of the Dry Plains Brigade are a practical bunch of rural people that don’t like wasting money and are willing to fix things when they are broken or damaged. All around us, we see a world that is becoming wasteful and items are discarded in place of the newer product.

I love the new stuff as much as anyone else, but I do try to move things along to another user, recycle and reuse wherever possible.

In a stark contrast, the NSW Rural Fire Service and the NSW Government seems to be wasting huge amounts of money on many unnecessary empire building developments including expensive fire suppression strategies. Meanwhile the simple things like accepting and allowing Aboriginal land management practices to be used by communities and Brigades gets kiboshed by red tape. These simple and effective land management practices have the potential to save huge amounts of money and the environment from certain destruction.

I’m not suggesting that we discard new firefighting technologies but we seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, discarding much of the local knowledge, bush skills and practical firefighting skill (formerly referred to as firemanship).

I read a post on the Australian Emergency Law Blog by Michael Eburn that prompted this post.

Mr Eburn’s post was titled ‘Altering’ or ‘damaging’ NSW RFS PPE. Click the logo (above) to read the entire blog.

We hope that law is about justice, but often it’s about semantics as my thoughts on today’s question demonstrate. My correspondent is a volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service who recently became aware of an email sent by an RFS brigade Captain to his brigade members saying:

“It has come to my attention that some members have altered or are planning on altering issued PPC (Bushfire Jackets/Pants and CABA Jacket and Pants). This is NOT to happen as it voids the PPC Australian Standard (AS) compliance for protection and integrity. If any PPC has been altered it is unable to be used and will not be re-issued free of charge. You WILL have to pay for your replacement if you have altered any PPC at you own will without approval. The only way for PPE/C to be altered is by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to retain Compliance to AS. All members are entitled to PPE/C that fits and sometimes the sizes provided may not fit safely, this is where you can request made to measure PPC fitted by consulting with you friendly FCC staff. This will be arranged through the PPC Manufacturer. Please remember that NO PPC IS TO BE ALTERED whatsoever, and if you are found to have altered PPC you will NOT be allowed to use it, will have to return it and pay for your replacement gear.”

Mr Eburn provided a very sensible conclusion:

To avoid the semantic debate it may be helpful to make some changes. Service Standard 5.1.5 should, perhaps, say ‘PPC garments are not to be modified or changed in any way other than provided in this Service Standard’.

The Brigade Captain’s email (assuming it reflects RFS policy) should perhaps say “If any PPC has been altered it is unable to be used and you will not be re-issued PPC until you have reimbursed the RFS for the cost of the damaged PPC…”

Finally if making alterations such as shortening the leg length in no way affects the protection afforded by the PPC then there is no reason to prohibit that action save that neither the member nor the RFS can know whether a particular alteration has or has not affected the integrity of the PPC. Given that a blanket rule against alterations makes sense but as with the badges, if the manufacturer says ‘it’s OK to ….’ then whatever’s OK should be allowed.

Click HERE to read the entire blog.

As I read that post, I remembered that our brigade just repaired some items of PPE that had been damaged by a rodent (possible a mouse or rat).

Not only did the Brigade pay to have the local seamstress sew some patched over the holes, they also decided to buy a plastic box to prevent further rodent damage.

Patched PPC with a new press stud.
Patched PPC with a new press stud.

I also noticed that we have embroidery sewn onto our overalls. It is interesting to note that the overalls were superseded by a two-piece uniform many years ago and the service is about to update the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Personal Protective Clothing (PPC) yet again.

Embroidery on firefighting overalls.
Embroidery on firefighting overalls.

Whilst the city-centric management of the NSW Rural Fire Service comes to terms with the huge costs of equipping every volunteer with the latest PPE and PPC, the volunteers will continue to rock up and put the wet stuff on the red stuff, wearing whatever they can get their hands on, even if they have to patch it up along the way.

I’m so proud to be part of my local Brigade because they just like to get the job done and get back to work (farming or whatever it is they do).

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One Reply to “What have we become?”

  1. Section 273 of the WHS Act 2011:
    Person not to levy workers
    A person conducting a business or undertaking must not impose a levy or charge on a worker, or permit a levy or charge to be imposed on a worker, for anything done, or provided, in relation to work health and safety.

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