26 March, 2024

Brigades fear for future

The Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (RFBAQ) say they have been left out of the loop in the drafting of new legislation that will see an overhaul of Queensland’s fire and emergency services.

President of the RFBAQ, Ian Pike.
President of the RFBAQ, Ian Pike.

RFBAQ president, Ian Pike, said the association had been given less than a week to respond to the new legislative changes, introduced on March 7.

He said the RFBAQ had been left in the dark over the proposed reforms, saying the amendments were causing angst among brigades.

“The outcome will be that the Rural Fire volunteers are not going to be happy,” he said.

“We are hearing that members are going to park up their trucks and walk away.

“They believe they have lost the respect of the powers to be, as they’ve been left out of the conversation.”

In its submission, the RFBAQ rejected several proposed legislation changes to the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990, calling for all amendments to be dismissed ahead of a full legislative rewrite after the state election in October.

Those include concerns around autonomy of rural fi re brigades and assets, incident response protocol, extended commissioner powers and a perceived bias away from volunteer firefighters.

The new bill will see QFES transition to a new entity - the Queensland Fire Department (QFD), with the Rural Fire Service Queensland and Queensland Fire and Rescue as separate and dedicated fi re services within the QFD.

The changes follow an independent review of QFES, which recommended a suite of departmental reforms, including Emergency Services moving under the control of the Queensland Police Service.

Caboolture RFBAQ representative and vice-president Ian Swadling AFSM said the manner in which this announcement was made shows “complete contempt for volunteers”, as the rural brigades and the association were not given any information about the announcement ahead of time.

“We were not extended an invite to attend the announcement and Minister Boyd had four urban firefighters on stage and not a single volunteer”, he said. “This legislation is a stab in the back of volunteers.

“If there weren’t volunteers, the fi re service would cease to exist.”

While Mr Swadling shared Mr Pike’s experience, with brigade members threatening to walk away, he assures people that they will always support the community.

“Rural Brigades grew from the community and continue to do so, so we are not saying we won’t support the community anymore.”

The RFBAQ, which typically only meet once a month, held an emergency conference on the weekend of March 16, with all 18 Queensland representatives attending and adamantly rejecting the changes.

Fire Minister, Nikki Boyd, has reassured rural fire brigades that local funds and assets would stay local, following legislative change currently being considered through a committee process.

“This Bill contains amendments that will set up the structures for QFD, RFSQ and QFR, support accountability and management of the services and Rural Fire Brigades, and ensure there are legal protections for fire volunteers,” Minister Boyd said.

Mr Swadling has said Minister Boyd’s claim of rural brigades retaining autonomy is false, as “it is blatantly obvious that they do lose their autonomy” and claiming the Minister is “soft soaping the brigades”.

Craig Young, Group Officer of the Caloundra Rural Fire Brigade Group, which includes seven local brigades in the Glasshouse Mountains region, said day-to-day operations would largely not be affected by the proposed reforms.

He said there had been a lot of concern raised, particularly by the RFBAQ, however he understood many of the concerns to be unfounded.

“There is no doubt the draft legislation can be seen as a little ambiguous, however at a local perspective we don’t share all the same concerns raised by the RFBAQ and we don’t believe the changes will have a detrimental effect on our operations,” he said.

“We see many positives for the Rural Fire Brigades.”


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