The video below features an informal chat between Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) President Dave Gossage and Tony Fisher, the Shire of Kojonup’s Chief Fire Control Officer about a large fire that occurred over two days in extreme heat in WA’s south-west recently.
Many topics are discussed in the short discussion, but for us, the stand out is that so many locals (and their private vehicles) volunteered and worked together until the threat was gone. Tony says there were “100+” appliances on scene during the video but later confirmed it was around 150. This is a critically important fact because hardly any of those vehicles or the volunteers driving them are part of any formal brigade and therefore their use and time will never be recorded in official statistics. This is a critical issue for the AVBFB because, quite simply, the lack of formal record keeping means the Department and broader government never sees the whole picture.
Indeed, sometimes, like this occasion, because the incident is entirely managed by Local Government, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) – and therefore the Premier, the Treasurer, the Emergency Services Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the Minister for Environment and the Rural Fire Division – have no details of the incident. Let’s be very clear: a two-day bushfire that burnt up to 2,000 hectares of prime agricultural property over a 12km front that was fought by hundreds of volunteers in 150 vehicles has not been recorded in official statistics!
We aren’t advocating for more red tape for the incredible teams that only ever come together when they are needed, but we do need to highlight the issue because the effort (and resources) required when things go astray are almost always under reported in rural areas. When it comes time to evaluate funding based on the rather simplistic “resource to risk” model that heavily uses response statistics, the official record doesn’t reflect the true needs and that is one of the reasons WA’s largest emergency service receives not much more than 5% of total state funding allocated from the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) each year.
Just think about it – if hundreds of firefighters in around 150 appliances were required at a fire in the Perth CBD, it would be all over the news and the Premier or Ministers would be out in front of TV cameras reassuring the public that any money required to stop it happening again would be spent. Did you hear anything at all in state-wide media about this fire in Kojonup last week? Did DFES or the Minister make any public statements?
One of the biggest challenges we face as the peak body for WA’s incredible 26,000 volunteers (many of whom don’t fill in forms every time they attend an incident) is summed up by the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind”.
Great work to capture the spirit of WA’s amazing Volunteer Bush Fire service Dave and to Tony and his spontaneous team of hundreds, well done for donating your skills and time as part of the huge team of quiet achievers we so fiercely and proudly represent across WA.