Volunteers and career firemen at loggerheads

THE often-hostile divide between the CFA’s volunteer and career firefighters widened yesterday as they staked out different sides of a turf war in a hearing of the Bushfires Royal Commission.
The United Firefighters Union wants all Victoria’s fire services merged into one, and about 10,000 volunteers ditched in favour of career officers.
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria opposed amalgamation and said it would damage the CFA’s community-oriented culture.
David Ackland, a volunteer firefighter in Seymour, said he would probably leave if any amalgamation of the CFA and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade led to a devaluing of volunteers.
“The way I see amalgamation is the start of the end of volunteerism,” he said. “I see career firefighters coming into my brigade . . . and basically taking over. I have seen and heard through the state where there’s a bit of friction [between the two groups] . . . I don’t want to see that happen. My region is totally volunteer firefighters and we are proud of that and we don’t want to see career staff coming into our stations.”
Mr Ackland and other witnesses painted a portrait of an agency captive to the union of its career officers, with the UFU allegedly having power of veto over CFA management decisions about issues ranging from protective clothing to the resourcing of volunteer brigades.
Mr Ackland said his region recently spent two years without a sessional instructor to provide training because career officers did not want the job but volunteers were effectively locked out of applying for it.
“This caused a great deal of unnecessary frustration for the volunteers,” he said. He would not want to put up with the inconvenience of workplace agreements, he said.
Professor David Hayward, dean of the school of global studies, social science and planning at RMIT, presented a report commissioned by the UFU that argued for a shift to career firefighters for large regional centres and for the whole of metropolitan Melbourne (one-third of greater Melbourne now falls under the CFA).
This would reduce duplication and difficulties associated with different equipment, uniforms and communications, he said.
Under his model of a Victorian Fire Board with a rural and an urban division, the reliance on volunteers would be lowered but it was not intended that it would disappear, he said. Professor Hayward said that over the next 30 years communities of only a few thousand people, such as Officer, would take on an inner-city character with new multi-storey dwellings that would require more urban firefighting techniques.
Lex de Man, a CFA area manager, said that in 2009, the CFA responded to 30,876 urban incidents and 8664 rural incidents, and the value of the work done by volunteers had been estimated at up to $840 million a year.
He acknowledged “there are tensions at times” between volunteers and career officers. Professor Hayward’s model would mean the loss of about 10,000 volunteers, he said.
Volunteer Firefighters Victoria CEO Andrew Ford said he had not seen any model of amalgamation that he believed would satisfy volunteers.