Fire facts tell different story

Last Saturday, a letter was printed in The Standard from the member for South West Coast, Denis Napthine. 

To say I was mildly disappointed by his comments would be an understatement but to say Mr Napthine has, at best, only a tenuous grasp of the facts is an even bigger one.

Mr Napthine claims to have written his letter in response to the article by Peter Collins in the December 5 edition of The Standard (‘South-west firefighters protest staff levels, state funding’), and not in response to the report that I personally hand-delivered to his office on December 4.

The report highlighted how the slashing of $66,000,000 from the fire services budget ($45,000,000 from CFA and $21,000,000 from the MFB) would affect frontline fire services in regional areas.

So, given that Mr Napthine doesn’t seem to have concerned himself with the report or such trivial matters like firefighter or public safety, here are some brief facts Mr Napthine and, more importantly, the whole community should know.

- The Warrnambool Fire Brigade responds to between 500 and 600 emergency calls per year.

- Warrnambool fire station is the only 24/7, permanently staffed station in the south-west area.

- Professional firefighters are responsible for between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of all CFA calls.

- Warrnambool Fire Brigade provides automatic support to Mortlake for the gas-fired power station, to the Port Campbell gas plants, to Portland for major incidents at Alcoa, the port area and other heavy industries, to Koroit and Port Fairy for significant structure fires, and responds to all hazardous materials and technical rescue incidents (confined space, steep angle and trench rescue) within the south-west area.

- Warrnambool fire station has a staffing level of only three professional firefighters on duty per shift.

- Chief Officers Standing Order 11, Health and Safety, clearly states that for unrestricted operations on the fireground, the preferred minimum is four firefighters.

- On the morning of the Telstra exchange fire, by chance there were four firefighters on duty. This enabled two firefighters to conduct an immediate and effective internal fire attack. If only three had been on duty as is the norm, there would have been no initial, internal fire attack. Given the rapid speed of fire development the damage done would have meant Telstra services would be off line for months, not a matter of weeks like they have been. For obvious reasons it is unsafe in the extreme for a firefighter to work alone inside a burning structure and the CFA will never condone such a practice.

- The closest aerial appliance support is at Ballarat or Geelong, both a minimum of two hours’ travel time away.

- The aerial pumper which is to be deployed to Warrnambool is not being delayed by the union in a bid for additional staffing, as stated by Mr Napthine. In fact, if Mr Napthine had done his research he would know that the CFA and the United Firefighters Union (UFU) already have an in-principle agreement for an additional three firefighters per shift to crew the aerial pumper. The problems are that, as it currently stands, the Warrnambool fire station is too small to accommodate either the appliance itself or the staff that will crew it. The engine bay is already full and the station has only four dormitories. The CFA is well aware of this.

- As a result of the Liberal Party’s budget cuts, the redevelopment of Warrnambool fire station continues to be delayed. Mr Napthine himself listed the six south-west fire stations funded for redevelopment in the 2012/2013 state budget and Warrnambool was not one of them. Without redevelopment, the aerial pumper and its crew cannot and will not be deployed.

-  The state of Victoria is one of, if not the most, bushfire-prone areas on earth.

- The upcoming fire season is predicted to be the worst since 2009 (Black Saturday) when 173 lives were lost and 2029 homes were destroyed.

Mr Napthine has made the statement that the UFU’s claims are nothing but reckless scaremongering. Surely the public would agree that slashing the state’s fire services budget by a massive $66,000,000 in the face of another potentially devastating fire season is the very definition of reckless.

Troy Cleverley, Leading Firefighter JFAIP Practitioner, Warrnambool Fire Station

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