THE CFA had an “antipathy” towards the idea of fire safety advisers and failed to appoint them to all but two control centres on Black Saturday, the Bushfires Royal Commission heard yesterday.
Fire safety advisers had been recommended by a coroner after five firefighters died at Linton in 1998, but agencies had vehemently opposed the idea then and only paid lip service to it now, said Peter Rozen, counsel assisting the commission.
Mr Rozen said the advisers were meant to examine incident controllers’ plans to check they prioritised the safety of firefighters, but that even control centres in charges of the biggest and most deadly fires that day, failed to appoint them.
“What we have is not an isolated example but a widespread non-compliance across a number of ICCs on what was recognised by all involved as the worst imaginable day, not only for the community of Victoria, but also for firefighter safety,” he said.
Mr Rozen said injuries and near-misses that could have produced multiple fatalities suggested much went wrong with safety on Black Saturday. He argued that Victoria should adopt the US-style system of fire safety officers, who have the right to veto operation plans that endangered firefighters.
Mr Rozen also criticised the internal inquiries run by the CFA into safety incidents. He said three crews out of the 19 crews who were hit by burnovers that day had been endangered when a wind-change warning was issued with the wrong time. An internal inquiry found this left them with a false sense of security.
But the incident controller who had authorised the incorrect warning had not been interviewed or notified of the inquiry’s findings, which indirectly criticised him, Mr Rozen said.
Neil Clelland, SC, for the state, said the CFA alone used 16,000 firefighters that day but only one had died, and he was not on duty. This indicated sound management, he said.
First published in The Age.