Rural firies call for change
THE body which represents Queensland's volunteer rural firefighters has accused the Bligh Government of burying a major report into the Rural Fire Service which contains sweeping recommendations for reform.
As the Sunshine State faces up to a likely horror summer bushfire season, the chief executive officer of the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (RFBAQ) Dick Irwin yesterday said the report was completed at the same time as the State Budget but had not seen the light of day.
The Management of Rural Fire Services in Queensland report - completed just a few days before the June 14 Budget - warns that the Rural Fire Service is "at risk of becoming unsustainable" due to "a lack of forward planning".
It also describes systems used to assess funding and resource requirements of brigades as "inadequate", and points to other concerns over increasing fire incidents due to climate change, urban encroachment and difficulties in recruiting new volunteers.
Financial accountability is also now an issue, with no centralised accounting for the state's 1500 brigades.
The report contains no less than 15 recommendations for Rural Fire Service reform, including a legal review and a review of emergency communications and strengthening the relationship between rural and urban brigades.
Another is for a "clear grievance procedure", after public complaints about the conduct of volunteers.
Mr Irwin said the report was the result of extensive consultation with volunteer rural firefighters who had made an "overwhelming" number of submissions.
"It would appear the report has been buried which is disappointing as it was the result of state-wide meetings with brigades," Mr Irwin said.
"A lot of options were put up as a result."
Mr Irwin's comments come at the same time as the RFBAQ aired concerns about red tape and unnecessary training pushing volunteer firies out of the service.
Mr Irwin said up to 40 per cent of rural firies had quit in the last two to three years, with many deciding they would "rather be doing other things with their spare time".
Mr Irwin said the decline in volunteer numbers west of the Great Dividing Range had reached a "critical" point.
"In many cases it's a lack of training or training being seen as repetitive and boring and a drain on volunteers' spare time," he said
"With summer approaching the situation in western areas such as the Darling Downs is really critical."
He repeated warnings about the "fuel load" of grass on the ground in rural districts built up as a result of the extreme wet of last summer, combined with grain and other crops ripening.
Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts yesterday said he was "disappointed in the RFBAQ campaign to undermine public confidence in the Rural Fire Service".
He said a departmental response to the Management of Rural Fire Services report had been posted on the Queensland Parliament website on Friday and described "claims of red tape and unnecessary training requirements" as "complete nonsense".
"The safety of our volunteer rural firefighters is paramount," Mr Roberts said.
"That is why volunteers complete training before they enter active service.
"However, the QFRS tries to make it as easy as possible for the volunteers to complete the required competencies by using online resources, DVDs and printed material."
Mr Roberts said in the four-and-a-half years as minister the number of rural fire volunteers has remained "stable".
"One thing that has changed is the number of trained firefighters. In 2008 there were around 6500 trained firefighters, currently there are around 11,200 - a 72 per cent increase."
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