A FIREFIGHTER has started a petition in support of a volunteer Rural Fire Service following the release of the report into the Waroona-Yarloop bushfire.
Former Victorian country fire boss Euan Ferguson completed a government inquiry into the devastating fires in which two men lost their lives.
His report – released in June – recommended sweeping reforms to the way WA fires are managed, including the creation of a Rural Fire Service.
A volunteer firefighter of more than five years, Lance Duivenbode has created a Change.org petition asking Premier Colin Barnett and Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis to back the creation of the Rural Fire Service.
Mr Duivenbode has been involved in control point and fire ground operations at a number of large fires, both in the north and east of Perth.
“There’s a feeling from volunteers that the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) hierarchy does not put sufficient effort into supporting volunteers and bushfire-fighting in general,” he said.
“The common belief is that this is due to a lack of bushfire-fighting experience within the DFES hierarchy.”
However, Mr Duivenbode is careful to emphasis the issue is not one of career versus volunteer firefighters.
“It’s simply about putting the right people, equipment and training in place,” he said.
“Volunteers need to stand up for what they believe is the right course of action, since brigades and Shires/Councils are often not able to make official comments.”
Mr Duivenbode said radical action must be taken by the State Government to prevent a repeat of the Waroona-Yarloop fires.
He criticised the government for failing to make firm commitments following the release of Mr Ferguson’s report.
“I believe that an independently administered and funded rural fire service is the only way forward,” he said.
“This fire service must have the ability to determine its own structures and policies, be responsible for all rural fires (not just those outside the metro area as it will not address the issues on the fringes of urban centres), and make bush fire mitigation a key activity.”
Mr Duivenbode said DFES rarely have the correct equipment or training to deal with bushfire.
“Volunteers feel that bushfire mitigation is simply not a priority for DFES and the Department of Parks and Wildlife have until recently failed to make sufficient progress with their yearly burn targets,” he said.
“Volunteers are frustrated with sub-standard equipment, equipment roll outs and training.”
Mr Duivenbode used their Incident Control Vehicles (ICVs) as an example.
He said volunteers received minimal training on how to use the ICVs and said there is no after hour IT support for their use.
“Volunteers can only seek assistance during business hours, something that is of no help at an incident taking place overnight or on a weekend,” he said.
“Vehicles have not always been designed for the task at hand; ICVs cannot operate in high temperatures due to the electrical inverters overheating.
“When this occurs, all the systems go offline and must be manually restarted; not something that is needed in the middle of an emergency situation.”
Mr Duivenbode said DFES policy is to bring staff from the metro area instead of using volunteers with equal or greater experience.
“I have personally witnessed a number of situations where DFES staff have been deployed to either the incident control or as leader on the fire ground, when they only have basic bushfire experience,” he said.
The State Government is expected to make a decision regarding a Rural Fire Service in September.