The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) takes great pleasure in wishing every one of WA’s diverse and invaluable emergency service volunteers and their families the very best for 2019.
2018 has seen the foundations laid for significant change for our Volunteer Bush Fire Service in particular, with the somewhat disappointing announcement in April that the government would not be delivering the Rural Fire Service both it and the Opposition promised prior to the last election. It took some time for all the details to be fleshed out, but at the end of the day, we now have a sub-section of DFES called the Rural Fire Division (DRFD).
The part-time paid staff member and volunteer Committee and Board of the Association have worked hard all year to continue building an open, honest and trusting relationship with both the Minister and Commissioner in the hope that our sincere attempts to make share the invaluable knowledge and insights we constantly receive from our members is considered before big decisions are made. Unfortunately, the fact is we haven’t had the resources to be as pro-active and consistent as required to ensure the voice of our volunteers is always heard, let alone appreciated.
However, for the past 10 years or so, the AVBFB has worked extremely hard and made significant positive impact for our members and the broader community. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the strong and persistent advocacy of the Association over many years, there would not have been commitments made for any version of the recognition we now have of the very special skills required to effectively manage the threat and actualization of bush fire in rural and peri-urban environments.
While progress is now being made and wheels are turning as fast as government wheels ever turn, there is an ever-present risk of the complexity and diversity of our work being over-simplified by those holding calculators in office towers in the CBD. This isn’t code for DFES staff – the majority of who at least now understand the importance of a local, specialist bushfire service – we are talking about the people who’s job it is to balance the State’s budget, which, to be fair, isn’t an easy task either.
As well as the maintenance, there are also other specific things on the radar. This year will see the start of the building of the Bushfire Centre of Excellence and re-location of the DFES Staff in the Rural Fire Division and perhaps the biggest specific issue we will need to address will be the government’s promise to amalgamate the existing separate pieces of emergency services legislation, opening the door for challenging discussions about the possibility of merging services and changing reporting structures – all things we sincerely hope we will be amply and genuinely consulted about long before they hit Parliament.
So it’s a never-ending process of educating, informing and reminding those with the sharp red pens that short term “efficiencies” often result in long term liabilities – and that is one of the most important roles that the AVBFB undertakes on behalf of our members. We know our members don’t want to “be political” but sadly, where there is competition for a limited pot of money, there will always be a need to be exactly that. We take great care and pride in not being partisan, but although the Association’s hard working volunteer Board sometimes cops unfair and often personal attacks for holding ground, we do so without fear or favour in the very best interest of our members and their communities.
We hope 2019 is a safer year than last in terms of fire and other natural hazards, and we also desperately hope those in power come to see that even though we will never back down when a bad decision hits, the easiest and best way to move everyone forward is to openly, honestly and genuinely engage with those elected to represent the best interests of our unpaid workforce.
On behalf of President Dave Gossage, Vice President Phil Penny, Secretary/Treasurer Lorraine Webster and the whole State Committee of the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades, we sincerely thank those members, politicians and other stakeholders who understand the value and importance of robust discussion and negotiation and continue to respect and value the work of the invaluable women and men of WA’s largest emergency service – the Volunteer Bush Fire Service.
Happy New Year to all.