Fears reforms will hurt CFA

By Liz Mellino

A volunteer firefighter has described the reforms to overhaul Victoria’s fire services as a ‘‘mediocre proposal’’ that will gravely impact the Country Fire Authority.

The reforms to combine the Metropolitan Fire Brigade with paid CFA staff to create Fire Rescue Victoria were passed in State Parliament on Thursday night, with the move leaving the CFA to become volunteer only.

Tatura volunteer secretary and firefighter, and secretary for District Council 22 Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Bill Stockdale said the move would cause division between volunteer and career sectors, while undermining any leadership ranks.

‘‘We have a proposal that really I don’t think meets the demands of the community looking into the future,’’ Mr Stockdale said.

‘‘We need a strong responsive fire service, this is really a fire service that will depend on industry controls.’’

Mr Stockdale said the move would rob the CFA and chief officer of the ability to develop a modern, well-trained fire service with the chief officer unable to select, direct or manage staff under the new proposal.

He said the success of the CFA lay in an integrated model where volunteers and career firefighters worked side by side in a seamless working environment.

‘‘Volunteers want to be left alone to do our job, be well trained and respond to protect our communities — but I can see problems arising in not being able to do that and being able to work together as a solid organisation,’’ Mr Stockdale said.

‘‘The staff we have will not be employed by the CFA therefore they won’t be committed to us and won’t pick up our culture and understand us because they’ll be working for another organisation.’’

Mr Stockdale said he believed volunteer firefighters would walk away from their positions because of the changes, which he said would significantly impact daily operations.

‘‘(Volunteers) attend a whole range of incidents, from not only wild fires but structure fires, traffic accidents, hazardous material incidents, rescues and supporting police and ambulance services in a whole variety of emergencies,’’ Mr Stockdale said.

‘‘We are multi-skilled people that have been somewhat overlooked.’’

While Mr Stockdale said the change would fragment and disrupt the fire services, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the move was the ‘‘right thing for Victoria’’.

Ms Neville said the changes would only occur in integrated stations, making no difference to the 1200 volunteer stations across Victoria.

‘‘The integrated will stay integrated if volunteers want to stay — they are able to stay and we want them to stay,’’ Ms Neville said.

‘‘This enables us to focus our attention... on how we build a CFA that better supports their volunteers, so better training and better support.’’