A burnt-out house after the Black Saturday bushfire tragedy, which claimed 173 lives across Victoria.
A burnt-out house after the Black Saturday bushfire tragedy, which claimed 173 lives across Victoria. AAP

Red tape fans crisis flames

A SOUTHERN Downs rural fire-fighter claims new communications procedures could delay getting the message to those who need it in time when bushfire strikes.

With more than 40 years of experience, the firefighter – who wished not to be named – was recently alerted to documents he firstly believed to be a joke and said he thought they could have an impact on people’s lives.

A nine-page standing order was issued on March 1 by the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) with detailed procedures on how to disperse community information during emergency incidents.

“This is more about the fire service covering their own back rather than getting a timely warning out to those who need it,” the firefighter told the Daily News.

The document states the incident controller – the officer in charge on the ground – is to identify the need for community information but the firefighter said they would not have time to follow the procedures step by step before issuing the warnings.

A flow chart which is meant to simplify the process has 10 different steps to take before issuing a media release and eight steps to follow if they decide to send out an emergency alert message.

“It’s the mass of it that is the issue. All he (the incident controller) really has got to do is tell Joe to tell those people to get out of there,” he said. “Now he has to go through this whole procedure before he is permitted to do that.

“From the inquiry into the Black Saturday fires it appears that local firefighters were aware of the need to evacuate townships but were not permitted to do so because the information had to be channelled through procedures similar to the ones in this standing order.”

He said the delay in the warnings reaching those people possibly contributed to the death toll on Black Saturday last February.

“I am concerned people struggling with the piece of paper may not be able to issue timely warnings,” the firefighter said.

With Southern Downs residents still looking to set up home in the bush, the concerned firefighter said he was worried their lives could be under threat in the future.

“I am not against there being a procedure for managing the release of information but there is no need for it to be so encompassing,” he said.

Inspector for QFRS operations Bruce Ehrlich said people would still receive very timely warnings in the event of a bushfire.

“We have staff now on hand, incident management teams whose role is to undertake the generation and distribution of advice such as community warnings,” Insp Ehrlich said.

Insp Ehrlich said these teams would be on the ground at a serious incident and would be in constant contact with the firefighters at the front-line if there was a threat to lives, homes or other assets.

“We also look at current conditions and what structures may be impacted by the fire. Dedicated staff would be issuing a community warning or advising,” he said.

Insp Ehrlich said with the team on the ground the firefighters’ responsibility would be to focus on the fire and keep it under control.

What do you think? Call us on 4660 1310 or email edit@warwickdailynews .com.au

In case of fire...

To issue a media release in an emergency –

Incident controller contacts Firecom to request assistance

Firecom contacts Media and Corporate Communications (MACC) and then notifies Regional Assistant Commissioner

MACC obtains information to develop a media release

MACC confirms contact with Regional Assistant Commissioner

MACC issues approved media release

MACC provides copy of media release to Firecom and regional Assistant Commissioner

Incident controller to include issue of media release in incident reporting protocols

Planning Unit contacts MACC for assistance and support as necessary

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