As part of our membership and contribution to CAVFA (The Council of Australian Volunteer Fire Associations), the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) was invited to attend the NSW Rural Fire Service Conference in Sydney last weekend.
In New South Wales, there are two seperate Fire Services – the NSW Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW. The RFS has around 72,000 volunteers operating from more than 2,100 Brigades who are supported by a paid workforce of around 900. Like the Fire and Rescue Service, the NSW Rural Fire Service has its own Commissioner who reports to the Emergency Services Minister, Hon Troy Grant.
The NSW RFS is responsible for all aspects of Rural Fire Management and co-ordinates (with Local Government) Rural Fire Brigades, the design and provision of their equipment, training, mitigation and response.
NSW Minister for Emergency Services Hon Troy Grant opened the conference who made a number of excellent points in his address including recognising the work of the RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. It was great to see a whole government from the Minister to the Commissioner working so closely and openly with the Rural Fire Service Association to understand volunteerism and negotiate the cultures that need to be understood and employed by staff to truly value their volunteers.
During the weekend, the AVBFB delegates attended a number of very informative presentations from experts in rural fire management and also spoke with many colleagues about current issues, including our friends from the WA Fire and Rescue Association Trevor and Jodie who were also taking away a lot of learning to share with our “red truck” colleagues back home.
The NSW Government-supported volunteer association conference was not only jam-packed full of valuable presentations and networking opportunities, it also included an expo area that allowed the AVBFB team to explore and learn about some of the specialised tools and equipment that comes with a service that understands the unique culture and needs of rural communities and the invaluable volunteers who serve and protect them.
And there were even some exhibits from the Victorian Country Fire Authority (CFA) like this new 3.4 equivalent that can actually carry 4,000 litres of usable water. Check out the layout of the appliance below – all because the CFA engineering section has the motto of building appliances that are fit for the purpose of the end user, another piece of valuable learning for WA!
The new lightweight PPE that the AVBFB has worked hard to make available to Western Australian Volunteers is now standard issue in NSW, as is the uniform undershirt for all 70,000+ volunteers of the RFS.
And because the NSW RFS is a full rural fire SERVICE, it operates a huge range of specialist tools and equipment including its own aerial firefighting fleet.
As well as attending the RFSA Conference and helping out our CAVFA colleagues, the AVBFB also undertook its own research and networking in Australia’s most populous State regarding the pros and cons of having two independant and genuine services managing fire in NSW.
AVBFB President Dave Gossage met with Labor Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Guy Zangari and discussed volunteering, funding and support and also Emergency Services Levy (ESL) challenges across the different states. It was good to speak to a politician with passion and support for volunteers who provide this nation with its biggest emergency service resource – the NSW RFS.
All in all the quick visit was very worthwhile and confirmed that there are enormous benefits in having independant specialised services taking local control of the management of the hazards that each agency has expertise in.