Since its inception, the Longwood Rural Fire Brigade has worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the Longwood community and surrounding areas.
Many members of the brigade have committed their lives to this endeavour.
Their many years of experience have contributed to a vast accumulation of knowledge, both with regard to fighting fires and preventing them. They are trusted by the community to protect both property and, most importantly, lives.
In recent times the experience and wisdom of these life-long volunteers has been subverted, undermined and sabotaged by the so called “rules and regulations” placed upon them by those in positions of power within the CFA.
These rules and regulations prevent the Longwood Fire Brigade (and other brigades like them) from administering safety measures, such as controlled burns.
Controlled burns have taken place in Longwood long before the CFA Handbook was written, and serve to reduce fuel loading around the township. Thus making the town a safer place.
Despite what has been said by Steve Warrington (CFA CEO) in recent times, reduction in fuel loading has been proven to inhibit bushfires by lowering the intensity of the blaze.
David Packham, of the CSIRO, has proven that the standard intensity of a fire that is able to be controlled is three megawatts per metre.
However the Black Saturday bushfires, for example, averaged about 70 megawatts per metre.
Mr Packham states that 97 per cent of the intensity of a fire is directly related to the fuel loading in the area.
If this is the case, then preventing communities from undertaking fuel reduction burns can only be viewed as sheer stupidity and indeed it must surely be a failure to comply with the “duty of care” that is spoken about with such reverence within the hierarchy of the CFA.
Simply put, high fuel loads endanger human lives.
Sadly, many in rural communities feel that the CFA hierarchy and government agencies give more consideration and value to flora (most not even native) than to human life.
The recent bushfire conditions in Victoria, NSW and Queensland have been associated with terms such as “unprecedented” and “unparalleled”.
However, evidence suggests that it is in fact not the weather conditions that are unprecedented, but the fuel loading.
Fuel loading that could be prevented through the use of controlled burns and grazing.
Indeed this was a recommendation made by the royal commission into the Black Saturday bushfires, and subsequently ignored by the Victorian Government.
It was recommended that fuel loads be reduced in five per cent of the total area of vegetation in Victoria per year, but since 2009 not even a third of this target has been met (an even lower percentage in the past five years).
This failure to comply with the recommendations of the royal commission, combined with the prevention of controlled burns in local communities, severely restricts the effectiveness of local brigades to protect their communities.
It seems that at the core of the problem is trust.
The CFA hierarchy seems to no longer trust the years of experience and local knowledge when it comes to what is best for communities like Longwood.
However, they still trust and rely on these experienced volunteers when it comes to managing bushfires on the ground.
They still trust that volunteers will leave their homes and work to respond to threats, even on ‘Code Red’ days when the public is advised to flee.
Brigades must be trusted to manage their local areas, just as they are trusted time and time again to protect communities when the heat is on.