RURAL bushfire brigades and volunteer fire and rescue associations have mixed opinions about the State Government’s decision to create a Rural Fire Service.
The Service, which was announced by the government in response to the Ferguson Report, a special inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fire, will be established as either a separate agency or sub-department of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
The other recommendations (17 in total), have also been backed by the government, and include extra funding for fire mitigation, the issuing of DFES volunteer identification cards and the adoption of a system that better distributes fire information and warnings across a range of devices, including smartphones.
The Western Australian Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services Association, which is the peak body representing WA’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service members, voiced a number of concerns regarding how an independent RFS would be funded.
WAVFRSA president Paul du Boulay said the creation of a fully independent RFS would be a short sighted and financially irresponsible decision that would not serve the communities of Western Australia any better than the current arrangements.
“A totally independent RFS would limit the opportunity for multi- agency co-operability and raise impediments for our members to undertake their roles,” he said.
“We strongly believe that a ‘Rural Operations’ sub-department of DFES would be a more efficient, co-operative, financially viable and effective path forwards.
“It would also ensure that the high level of training currently undertaken by our membership could continue.”
Yallingup Rural Brigade captain Matty Muir said the establishment of a RFS was a very complicated issue with a number of tradeoffs.
“As a brigade we have yet to come to a consensus,” he said.
“We see the benefits of a focus on rural needs and abilities but we are concerned that money that could go to fire prevention and fire fighting might be wasted on unnecessary duplication.
“At the same time, we are very excited to see the promise of ID cards, the fire truck tracking system and the new messaging system.
“It will be an early Christmas for us if these come on board before the fire season really gets underway as these will help us do our job serving the community better.”
City of Busselton Planning and Development Services director Paul Needham said it was very pleasing to see that the government had now determined its response to the Ferguson Inquiry recommendations.
“Many of the recommendations are clearly very positive and straightforward, but it is obviously the proposed establishment of a RFS that has generated most interest,” he said.
“The City will be seeking a briefing on the issues from DFES as soon as possible, and will also be seeking input and feedback from our volunteers.
“Once both of those things have occurred, the City will be in a position to better understand what affects the change may bring, and to ensure that our community gets the best possible outcomes from the change.”
Augusta Margaret River Shire president Ian Earl said the Shire welcomed all the recommendations of the Ferguson Report.
“As for the Rural Fire Service, the government has said that there will be a change to the structure in the future, however that time frame and the direction of the changes are yet to be determined,” he said.
“The government has also said they will consult strongly with the volunteers on this.”
Mr Earl said the council had supported its bush fire brigades and have kept a close eye on whether the brigades go through the process of a transition to DFES, which is still being finalised.
“The information gained from this process could well make up a large part of a submission for the future direction of the volunteer bushfire brigades across the state," he said.
“We can be at the forefront.”