Funding furore fires up firies
A LAY-it-on-the-table presentation by Bruce Ehrlich has inspired Southern Downs councillors to increase the rural fire brigade levy by 50 per cent.
The Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) Rural Operations area director bluntly told councillors at the Corporate Services Committee meeting on Wednesday that rural fire brigades in the district were under huge financial pressures.
In a confidential discussion at the end of the Corporate Services Committee meeting, councillors decided to increase the levy from $20 to $30, the Daily News can reveal.
Inspector Ehrlich said for the rural brigades in the Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) area, he was hoping to allocate between $250,000 and $350,000 a year for the next four to five years for capital expenditure.
Insp Ehrlich said about 60 per cent of the sheds in the Warwick district did not meet current QFRS standards, which indicate every shed must have a toilet, showers and a meeting room.
As well as this, Insp Ehrlich said many of the brigades on the Granite Belt did not have sheds to store their appliances in – something the QFRS was hoping to change in coming years.
Stanthorpe Rural Fire Brigades group officer Ian Townsend said the Glen Aplin Rural Fire Brigade almost entirely self-funded its new shed, which was opened this year, after raising $15,000.
He said in the next five years they hoped to install sheds at Applethorpe, Severnlea East, Broadwater, Severnlea West and possibly Malaw.
He said much of the Glen Aplin community thought it was run by the government, when in fact it was run by the community.
“We donate enough time of our own to fight fires let alone blinking go and raise money, I think the government should be able to supply the trucks and the shed,” he said.
Mr Townsend said he did not like the fact the Glen Aplin shed would now become a QFRS asset, even though it was built predominately from local funds.
“This is where the system stinks,” he said. “The shed is in the community but not part of the community.”
Cr Vic Pennisi said at the meeting he was concerned about the fact the State Government owned the fire equipment and sheds.
“The equipment is really owned by the state, while our community is putting money into it,” he said.
Insp Ehrlich replied, and made a commitment that as long as he was in charge of the region no assets would be taken from Warwick or Stanthorpe rural brigades.
The news that the SDRC has decided to increase the levy will be music to Warwick Rural Fire Brigades group officer Alan Payne, who is a member of the Freestone Rural Fire Brigade.
Mr Payne, who is a full-time dairy farmer, volunteers more than 40 hours a week in his role as group officer and said volunteers should not be spending their time fundraising to purchase essential resources.
He said the levy increase was fully justified.
“($30) is pretty cheap insurance when you think that last year there were a lot of prolonged fires that went for weeks and we had multiple fire-fighting appliances on scene,” he said.
Mr Payne said of the 56 members at Freestone Rural Fire Brigade, five of the 32 active members were women – meaning the situation of not having a toilet at the shed like it is currently, was not tenable.
He said the brigade was in the process of extending the shed by half again to allow for a meeting room, toilets and shower – purchased at a cost of $12,000 from the Brigade's funds.
Mr Payne said the majority of brigades in the Warwick group had already used up all allocated operational funds for the year, with the next payment not due until October.