Volunteers feel the heat of fire services reforms

By Jamie Salter

Local volunteers have voiced concerns about reforms to fire services that start on July 1.

Under the changes a new organisation, Fire Rescue Victoria, will be created to encompass career firefighters and the CFA will become a volunteer-only organisation.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria spokesperson for District 23, Mary-Anne Egan, said what was labelled as a reform was increasingly returning to the old division between the CFA and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

District 23 covers a number of towns in the north-east including Benalla and Mansfield.

“A few short months ago, the CFA was being hailed for its efforts in protecting our communities; now we are being betrayed by the State Government,” Ms Egan said.

“The pathway to the government’s Fire Services Reform is lined with broken promises regarding genuine consultation with CFA leadership and the volunteers affected by the changes wrought.”

Ms Egan said CFA volunteers feared the new system would lead to “dysfunctional reporting lines”, which could be fatal in any emergency situation.

“We call on the Emergency Services Minister to listen to our CFA leadership, and CFA volunteers and our volunteer association to get the best possible outcomes for our communities as we rebuild the state’s crucial firefighting services.”

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria chief executive officer Adam Barnett expressed disappointment at a lack of consultation.

“We have warned these actions risk breaking the hearts and backs of stalwart CFA volunteers who despite their reservations, put the bitterness and rancour to one side and gave the government the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Barnett said.

“These are the same volunteers who put their lives on the line during this year’s devastating bushfires and whom we owe so much.”

The Andrews Government has said a highly-experienced team of experts will lead FRV and work with emergency services colleagues to keep Victorians safe.

“Our career and volunteer firefighters are the best in the world and as our population grows, we’re making sure that they and the Victorian community have the modern fire service that they deserve,” the government said.

The changes come as CFA chief executive officer Steve Warrington resigned from his position on Thursday after more than 40 years in the organisation.

The changes were first proposed in 2017 after eight reviews called for the CFA to be modernised.

FRV will operate 85 stations across the state including co-located stations, which will include both career and volunteer firefighters in major regional centres like Shepparton and Wangaratta, and support volunteer response where required.