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Issue #1583      February 27, 2013

Findings ignored … again

The Victorian government and the fire agencies have thumbed their noses at the independent Royal Commission findings again, ignoring interoperability and not utilising the services available to them, despite the serious operational situation that Victoria is currently facing.

While Country Fire Association personnel are currently stretched thin to cover strike team deployment, there has been absolutely no attempt to deploy resources from the Melbourne Fire Brigade in either a strike team capacity and/or a recall or move up capacity.

The United Firefighters Union has sent an open letter to the Fire Services Commissioner, Fire Agencies and State government:

Dear Mr Lapsley,

Interoperability and maximum use of emergency service resources

I respectfully write to you regarding one of the major findings of the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday Fires in February 2009.

The Commission found that:

Some organisational factors inhibited the fire authorities’ response on the day. There were serious deficiencies in the top-level leadership arrangements as a result of divided responsibilities, and the full potential of the operational capability that was available was not exploited because of differences in processes and procedures.

As you can see, the Royal Commission found that Victoria’s emergency service operational resources were not used to their full capacity and predominately this was because of parochial artificial boundaries and interoperability issues.

The Royal Commission further stated that:

The immediate priority must be to lift baseline operational capacity and interoperability in all of Victoria’s fire agencies. A clear commitment and a concerted effort are needed now. Leadership is required to create the environment and impetus for continuous improvement and to build capacity, resilience and operational fire management expertise in recognition of Victoria’s status as the most fire-prone state in Australia.
Administrative approaches to coordination have often proven ineffective, so the Commission considers that an organisational structure is needed to strengthen operational integration and establish a source of authority to ensure that change happens. To avoid parochialism, which can compromise reform, the source of authority needs to rest outside the individual fire services.

The Commission views improved operational performance as the absolute priority. In support of this, it considers modest and targeted structural reform is needed as a catalyst for change and to tackle the identified operational shortcomings in order to achieve four goals:

  • improved common operational policy and standards
  • stronger coordination and unambiguous command and control
  • improved interoperability
  • a strengthened capacity for agencies to provide an integrated response.

It is now three years since the findings of the Royal Commission were handed down and I am extremely disappointed that I have to report to you that, at this very moment, it appears that the fire services have not learnt anything from the Royal Commission findings, rather they have reverted back to their old bad habits of parochial attitudes.

The situation at the present is:

  1. At this point of time, the CFA are deploying strike teams to various locations within Victoria;
  2. This has lead to the necessity of recalling staff to ensure that there is adequate fire protection in the communities that the strike team members have been drawn from;
  3. MFB firefighters have not been requested, recalled or moved up to these areas;
  4. Therefore CFA career firefighters are placed in an unreasonable position where the likely outcome is the onset of chronic fatigue due to the excessive demands that are being placed on personnel as a result of:
    1. the current fire operations in Victoria
    2. MFB firefighters not being utilised to assist

The above problem can be alleviated if the findings of the Royal Commission had been adhered to and the parochial attitudes of the fire services were not allowed to continue to prevail.

For example there has been absolutely no attempt to deploy resources from the MFB in either a strike team capacity and/or a recall or move up capacity to alleviate the current shortfall of operational personnel in the CFA.

It is disappointing that the interoperability measures to ensure adequate staffing have not been utilised. These include secondment programs, move ups and/or deployment of career personnel from both fire services.

We respectfully ask that you exercise your discretion in your capacity as Fire Services Commissioner to override the current situation so that the unrealistic burden on CFA career staff is removed.

Additionally it is a community right that their resources, being the MFB, CFA and DSE, be utilised to their full capacity in accordance with the Royal Commission outcomes. We respectfully request you to rectify this as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,

Peter Marshall
UFU branch secretary

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