As explained in this letter to members, the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB) has been going above and beyond to try to ensure the government’s recently announced Rural Fire Division (RFD) of DFES delivers significant improvement to the support, working conditions and safety of the amazing women and men of the Volunteer Bush Fire Service. And this week has been like many others in that regard – we’ve had meetings, emails and long phone calls with many in government who were involved in the decision and are responsible for shaping the new Division going forward.
The Minister, Commissioner and new head of the RFD have undertaken 3 “road trips” to launch and explain the RFD so far – the South-West, the Great Southern and this week, the Wheatbelt. The AVBFB President Dave Gossage was able to take time away from work to join the tour for the first three days through the south-west and we have had reports from AVBFB Zone representatives and others from a number of meetings that occurred in the two regions we didn’t have the resources to formally attend.
The positive feedback we’ve received so far has had similar themes:
- volunteers appreciate the opportunity to hear about the RFD from the decision-makers personally,
- the informal and approachable style of the Minister, Commissioner and other speakers was very helpful, and
- it is obvious that the AVBFB is working overtime to try to keep morale high and everyone working with the government to try to make the best of the situation
Even though we’ve been criticised for being honest before, an important part of our role that we won’t shy away from is to also share observations of things that aren’t great, openly and honestly. We have always done that professionally and respectfully in the belief that nothing can be improved without first knowing that it needs to be. In that vein, here are some of the themes of the less supportive feedback we have received so far:
- not enough notice has been given of the meetings to enable volunteers to attend and that resulted in very few people being at some meetings,
- there were no volunteer speakers who could give a bush fire service perspective,
- there wasn’t enough detail provided (most feedback asked how Bush Fire Brigades will benefit from the mitigation funding), and
- information packs with all the detail should have been made available so those who attended could take them back to their Brigade members.
As we noted last week, we’ve also been swamped with specific questions and comments about various aspects of the RFD announcement. Rather than using our very limited resources to try to answer each individually, we have decided to put together a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document for volunteers and an overview presentation specifically to help Brigade leaders inform their teams about what is and isn’t going to change. If you have a question you would like included or would like to receive those documents when they are ready, please visit this page and complete the short contact form.
While there is still a lot of detail to come, the Association is already aware that some volunteers are unhappy and agitating for the sector to reject the current model. We understand that expectations were created of a Rural Fire Service and the government’s decision to deliver a division has disappointed many. However, we urge everyone to support the Association’s pragmatic approach of working with the government to make the best of what we have as a positive step forward. The Association will always advocate without fear or favour for the best outcomes for WA’s largest emergency service, but cannot at this point in time support calls for actions that risk further damaging the morale of the amazing women and men of our volunteer bush fire service.
A critical factor in why the AVBFB is taking this path is that unlike under the previous leadership, the Premier, Minister, Commissioner and their offices have demonstrated a genuine willingness to listen and consider the feedback and suggestions we make on behalf of our members. While these positive relationships and relatively open access remain, the AVBFB will continue to do its very best to support the government and help deliver better outcomes for the amazing volunteers of our proud bush fire service.