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FIRE SERVICES REFORM UPDATE

 

 

FIRE SERVICES REFORM UPDATE

by Commissioner Craig Lapsley, Emergency Management Victoria

Victoria’s emergency management sector has a lot to be proud of in the way in which they work together. This has grown over the years and is being cemented in the arrangements under which we currently operate. Victoria’s fire services are often central to that given the important role they play in fire, hazmat, rescue, emergency medical response, community education and community connection. It’s vital the organisations and services are healthy, respectful and operate together to best serve the community. It’s no secret that Victoria’s fire services, and the organisations that support them, have been in conflict for a long period of time and this has had an impact. We’ve seen it and experienced it, including the damage to morale it has caused in the ranks. We all know something has to change. Recently I appeared before the Fire Services Statement Parliamentary Select Committee along with the CFA and MFB chief officers. The Select Committee has a serious job to do and has heard from a broad range of people across Victoria. During my appearance, I talked about the challenges ahead for Victoria, the road to reform we have already travelled and the opportunity for the state. What’s clear is that this high level of disconnect between firefighters, both career and volunteer, disagreements between volunteer representative bodies, industrial bodies, and management contributes to poor outcomes which has had a huge impact on all our firefighters.

There is a lack of a joined approach a lack of diversity an inability to modernise our services and respect each other and ensure we are not causing harm to each other. Our fire services are ‘people’ organisations and when our people are healthy so are the organisations.

Infighting has been a clear negative theme within both CFA and MFB. This is further complicated with unresolved Enterprise Agreements for both MFB and CFA career firefighters with the last Enterprise Agreement was signed in 2010. The ageing firefighting fleet has been questioned by firefighters with the oldest CFA tanker in service being more than 30 years old. In 2006 the fleet profile was a 20 year replacement policy which has now been eroded. There are similar issues, but of a reduced nature, in MFB. The continual leadership changes in senior management at both CFA and MFB is a very visual and real concern. Leadership is a critical aspect of healthy organisation. At the committee hearing, I was asked about my preferred model for Victoria’s fire services. I talked about my long held position and vision for one fire service and the need to modernise our fire services. However, we’re not there yet. The 2017 model is one where we have career firefighters together in the one organisation and a strengthened volunteer force. This can work. This is bold reform and this means changing the way we do business in many aspects of emergency management. There will be many challenges and they need to be worked through. If this model is recommended to Parliament after the select committee process concludes, then we all still have work ahead of us and to return Victoria’s fire services to the best in Australia. An integrated service on the ground, with both career firefighters and volunteers working together along with other services remains critical to the delivery of effective community services throughout Victoria. Our fire services have great people doing great things who want to serve the Victorian community. Our people are passionate, dedicated, committed and community minded. Our volunteer and career firefighters continue to respond and protect our communities. I am confident their professionalism and commitment will never compromise community safety.

No matter what happens we need good leadership. Each of us has a responsibility to lead and shape the future in a positive and collaborative way, and to work together for the best outcome for the Victorian community.

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