It seems that since the government created a Rural Fire Division that has no particular relationship with rural Western Australia, we have received a fair number of requests from media and Members of Parliament to explain the various services that currently combine to provide the incredible emergency service coverage we enjoy.

Some of those asking appear to want nice neat little pigeon holes to explain what each service does, occasionally being uncomfortable when we explain there are some fuzzy edges and dare we say it, overlap. The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) is always reluctant to use that word because many of the bean-counting propellor heads in ivory towers in the CBD love to demonise overlap as an unnecessary duplication that should be eliminated to save a few dollars.

For example, now that Commissioner Gregson and his “we are only a response agency” mantra are gone, the government is doing its best to sell the new and improved DFES – let’s call it DFES 2.0 – as being responsible for (and capable of) Response as well as the other “P’s” and “R” (Prevention, Preparedness, Recovery) that have always been managed by other agencies and the Volunteer Bush Fire Service. One of those other agencies is, of course the Parks and Wildlife Service (PaWS).

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So here’s a prediction:

Given that DFES is undertaking the review of the recent Albany fires, we suspect the report will be only slightly critical of PaWS for the fire/s that escaped containment lines but take a much harder line that PaWS doesn’t have the resources to effectively manage the planning of mitigation nor to manage any planned burns that get out of control.

That will lead to a question about increasing the budget for PaWS fire services which will be quickly squashed by the government that also told us the State couldn’t afford the Rural Fire Service (RFS) it promised prior to being elected. It won’t take long before someone then suggests that because DFES now takes care of everything, the PaWS fire section is a duplication and it would be more efficient to transfer all of its equipment and (some of) its staff across to DFES, with another small increase to the DFES budget for future years.

So what does this have to do with the amazing gang at the Kalamunda VBFB you might ask? Well, to be clear – they had nothing to do with our prediction but a post the wonderful women and men shared on Facebook at about 1:30am this morning shows the value of the diverse emergency service we currently have.

Quite simply, the AVBFB would consider “streamlining” or “consolidation” like that we have predicted with PaWS in the next 12 months to be a significant step backwards in WA’s long term emergency services strategy. While the government’s failure to deliver on all the recommendations of the Ferguson Report has left us with a less than perfect situation, one of the strengths of our system is its diversity. In our minds, this move would be the equivalent of putting almost all of WA’s emergency services eggs in the one basket, which everyone accepts has holes in it.

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The 26,000 invaluable women and men of WA’s Volunteer Bush Fire Service are THE experts in all things bushfire. They typically don’t get the training or equipment to be experts in Search and Rescue, Road Crash Rescue or Marine Rescue – but there are other services like the SES, VFRS and VMRS that do and are therefore the leaders in each of those specialist areas. To amalgamate those services into say, one volunteer stream like the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Service (VFES) would create more generalists and less of the highly skilled specialist experts that come together to form a team of genuine super-heros whenever catastrophe strikes.

Today’s early-morning post from the expert bushfire Volunteers in Kalamunda goes to the very heart of this issue.

Our members are the experts in managing bushfire to be sure, but the primary reason bushfires need to be managed is the damage that they can cause to our natural and built assets. Arguably, the most “expensive” damage from bushfire occurs at the urban fringe – where sparsely populated bushland meets more built-up areas, like the Perth Hills, outer-metropolitan areas and WA’s 500 or so country towns.

And that is precisely how this thought provoking article links to the amazing, expert team at the Kalamunda Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade.

At around 1am on a cold and wet winter’s night, a group of highly skilled volunteers got out of their beds, left their families and attended what is nowadays a uniquely rural fire, within the chimney of a private residence surrounded by trees. Many might want to claim that “structure fires” are solely the remit of the Fire and Rescue Services, but the fact is this job was attended by the experts who were most suited – those trained in the management of bushfire, even though the primary site in this case was inside a structure.

Our members are experts in the management of rural fire, which is more often than not, bushfire. However, they are also often the first responders to many other types of incidents and routinely (and proudly) support other services when an incident requires their particular area of expertise.

That overlap, or for the accountants out there, duplication, is indeed one of the strongest features of Western Australia’s combined emergency service capability right now and we sincerely hope that this baby will not be thrown out with the bathwater in what the government continues to promise as a period of inevitable improvement.

Thank you to the Kalamunda VBFB team for doing what you do 24/7/365 and for posting what is a very important reminder that without different colours, tapestry is just weaving.

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