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Changes and challenges – Victoria’s Fire Services

Our current fire services arrangements have their origins in the 1890s and have remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years.

Under current arrangements, CFA serves rural, regional and urban areas through a network of 1,220 community-based volunteer brigades, including 35 integrated stations staffed by both career firefighters and volunteers.

At the same time, MFB operates in built–up areas of Melbourne through a network of 47 stations staffed by career firefighters.

Forest Fire Management Victoria, including staff from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and others, are responsible for preparedness activities to reduce the risk and impact of bushfires, as well as responding to all bushfires on Victoria’s parks, forests and other public land.

For generations, the bravery, skill and dedication of our firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, have kept Victoria safe and saved lives. We have a proud track record of fire services working together with other agencies to respond to emergencies. This includes Victoria State Emergency Service, Victoria Police, and Ambulance Victoria.

But our firefighters are being let down by an outdated structure. All the recent reviews and inquiries have made this clear, particularly the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

As our population grows and our environment changes, our existing fire services model is struggling to keep up. In short: just as our state evolves, so too must our fire services.

Victoria: a changing state

  • CFA services 3.3 million Victorians including 60 per cent of Melbourne’s suburbs.
  • Victoria’s population is projected to increase by 4.6 million people between now and 2051, with growth concentrated in major regional centres and Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
  • In 2006, CFA volunteer-only brigades responded 18,958 times. By 2016 this had reduced slightly to 15,603. This reflects the number of brigades that transitioned to the integrated model. In the same decade, integrated brigades saw an increase in responses from 19,806 to 27,167. This represents an increase of 37 per cent over this period.
  • Our climate is changing, with 15 of the hottest years on record occurring in the past 16 years. Heatwaves are lengthening fire seasons, and bushfires will likely increase in frequency, intensity and affect more densely populated areas.
  • The nature of the emergencies that our fire agencies must deal with has also changed. Urban fire and rescue services are at the forefront of managing the consequences of major incidents involving terrorism, hazardous materials, and public infrastructure. This includes assisting ambulance paramedics during mass casualty incidents, dealing with fires and explosions, and performing rescues.

Fire Service Challenges

There have been eight different reviews into Victoria’s fire services in less than ten years. This includes the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, 2011 Jones Inquiry, 2015 Fire Services Review, 2014–16 Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, and the 2015–16 Parliamentary Inquiry into CFA Training College at Fiskville.

Key findings and recommendations from these reviews include:

  • Differences in CFA and MFB practices and equipment that affect the ability of firefighters from each service to work together in responding to emergencies. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and the Fire Services Review both made recommendations on enhancing the ways that the fire services work together including standardisation of equipment, training and systems.
  • There are workplace culture issues, including low morale and lack of diversity, as well as a fundamental disconnect between management and firefighters. The Jones Inquiry and the Fire Services Review made a number of recommendations to strengthen culture and improve diversity in the fire services.
  • Outdated governance structures, resulting in bad decision-making processes, lack of direction and confusion regarding overall responsibilities. The Fire Services Review made recommendations to modernise legislation for the fire services and to reinstate the role of the Chief Officer as organisational leader. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission recommended a process for reviewing the metropolitan fire district boundary.
  • Poor morale arising from protracted industrial relations negotiations. The Fire Services Review recommended a focus on restoring a cohesive work culture.
  • Issues with financial, project, resource and occupational health and safety management. The Inquiry into CFA Training College at Fiskville and the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry made recommendations on improving health and safety management for firefighters and other emergency services. The Fire Services Review recommended improvements to the interoperability of appliances and equipment.

Despite some progress, a number of these issues and recommendations have not been addressed.

It is time to act to support our fire services and to keep all Victorians safe.

 

Last updated: May 18, 2017

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