Dick Irwin (front) is not only fighting fires these days, but Queensland Fire and Rescue Service bosses for a fair go for rural volunteers.
Dick Irwin (front) is not only fighting fires these days, but Queensland Fire and Rescue Service bosses for a fair go for rural volunteers. Contributed

Fireys battle bosses

LOCAL rural fire fighters have “had enough” of management that is increasingly putting more pressure on them, not only to perform but fund fire fighting operations.

Glenwood rural fire first officer and Queensland Rural Fire Brigade Association CEO Dick Irwin said front line rural fire volunteers had been doing it tough with funding everything from equipment to stations and now wanted a fair go.

A weekend meeting between Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) bosses and the Rural Fire Brigade Association may ignite major protests across the state.

In the Gympie region our rural fireys fare better than others; some brigades still can’t afford a raft of new measures recently introduced.

“Last Saturday was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Mr Irwin said. “We’re treated like second class citizens.”

The volunteers aren’t going to stop fighting fires but they hope management will listen to their concerns.

In Queensland rural volunteers protect 93 per cent of the land mass, Mr Irwin said, yet the State Government won’t pay the full costs of equipment.

The costs of maintaining an effective rural fire service, including vehicle maintenance and building stations is picked up by other states, Queensland Rural Fire Brigade Association CEO Dick Irwin says.

He said Queensland Director of Rural Operations, Paul Adcock’s recent comments, dismissing claims volunteers had real concerns about their future were “naive”.

“There is a concern and for the fire service to say otherwise is silly in my view,” Mr Irwin said.

“Some days I feel like howling at the lack of support and consultation and the sheer frustration of getting our job done.”

Concerns of rural fire fighters – from a lack of uniforms, to unaccredited training and a mish-mash of fire levies across the state – were real enough for a state investigation by the Auditor-General.

Mr Irwin said hearings had already taken place in Cairns, Rockhampton, Emerald and Brisbane.

Volunteer’s concerns are mostly about a lack of funding, Mr Irwin said, but in some cases involved QFRS management’s lack of consultation.

“Fourteen of us met on Saturday with QF and R executives and the time has come to say simply that we’ve had enough.”

At that meeting a considerable number of items were raised that had a lot to do with a new manual, which Mr Irwin says was created without consultation.

“We weren’t privy to the new changes to be applied to volunteers.

“Paul Adcock said those items were never raised, it was the first time we had seen the new manual.”

The new reference tool, which “lays down regulations” includes some changes sought by rural volunteers, but a draft was never released before the final copy was sent to stations around the state.

“Some things that will affect volunteers need clarification, like declaring medical health backgrounds...There’s a plethora of change in the document.”

One thing that will have a damaging effect on volunteers is the need to bring stations up to work place health and safety standards.

“Once again the onus is on us. We’re saying enough is enough.

“Its not good enough.”

Rural operations management have already sent people to audit stations around the state, Mr Irwin said, and brigades had been presented with a list of what needed to be done to improve safety.

“What a lot of the public doesn’t know is how poorly funded volunteers are across the state. Every other state buys all the equipment and maintains the full cost.

“In Queensland the volunteers raise money to buy their own appliances and for fuel and tyres on vehicles.

“This is an ongoing concern for a vast number of brigades.

“The manual was the straw that broke the camels back. – with all the other expectations put on us.”

And right now the morale of volunteers is down.

“The Association fundraises right across the state and we say rural fire fighters shouldn’t have to fight fires and raise money as well.”

In the Gympie region rural fire levies help to alleviate a lot of stress from volunteers, but they still have to apply for grants.

“It’s not enough, sometimes they’ve got to find $20,000 to buy a vehicle and then build a station and they’re lucky if the government chucks in a $10,000 subsidy – but they have to maintain it all and pay for things like power.”

Meetings are being sought with the Queensland Auxiliary Association and the United Fire Service Union, both have also expressed concerns with QFRS management.

Some days I feel like howling at the lack of support and consultation”

Gympie Times


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