THE debate continues as to whether the Country Fire Authority should be split.
If proposed legislation was passed the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and all paid firefighters in the Country Fire Authority (CFA) would be merged into a new organisation called Fire and Rescue Victoria (FRV) and the CFA would be made a volunteer-only organisation. A recent hearing in Hamilton gave both sides the chance to air their views prior to it going to a vote.
Ballarat City CFA station officer in charge Anthony Pearce was at the hearing and said he supported the proposed reform because it would provide an up-to date fire service to the community.
Leading fire-fighter Brenton Smith added that if the legislation was passed there would be no changes to CFA stations outside of Ballarat, other than a cash injection in what is and will remain the CFA.
“A lot of individual volunteers are in favour of it (split), their Union is opposed to it,” Mr Smith said.
“We are hopeful, absolutely, that it will be passed. There is evidence to suggest that the CFA can come to a grinding halt if it’s not passed, there is zero ability for CFA career firefighters to have any EBA.” It appears that career fire-fighters are between a rock and a hard place with morale very low but at no stage will community safety be compromised. “Whether it (morale) can get lower? I’m sure it can and it will, the bickering and the infighting between different parties will continue,” Mr Smith explained.
“Things are bad in the larger regional centres and at no stage has it been the fault of any individual but the fault of the system. “If we look at a regional area, I have colleagues who are volunteers at brigades that attend 3-4 calls a year. When that pager goes off they get in a fire truck, put the fire out and they come home. “As we come further into the larger areas not only do the call rates increase dramatically but also the level of training and the frequency of training. “Given the increased expectations we have found that response is declining.”
Mr Smith added that if FRV goes ahead it will have an independent body to look at those areas and be able do something about it.
While professional fire-fighter numbers have increased – 300 statewide – that only gets the organisation to a stage where it is ‘catching up’, not caught up, he said. “We haven’t progressed to where we want to be,” Mr Smith said.
“We still only have the ability to turn out three trucks at a time with an appropriate crew. “The Fire Rescue legislation is around those larger regional areas and inner metro Melbourne and doesn’t have an impact on the outer laying areas, so nothing will change in that respect; people will still respond to fires and put them out at the end of the day.”
“If you weed through all the politicizing and the angst of it, then it really comes down to that we can provide an up-to-date modern fire service to the community not based on historical, cultural boundaries that haven’t been reviewed or changed for a long, long time,” Mr Pearce added.