Changes to be a slow burn

CONCERNED: Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Wodonga district president Max Wood is unsure what CFA changes will mean for volunteers, but others in the organisation fear a decline in numbers. Picture: SIMON BAYLISS
CONCERNED: Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Wodonga district president Max Wood is unsure what CFA changes will mean for volunteers, but others in the organisation fear a decline in numbers. Picture: SIMON BAYLISS

MOVES to split the CFA into two organisations could lead to a drop in volunteer numbers and put lives at risk during major emergencies.

That’s according to Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria spokesman John Dunn.

The State Government announced the changes on Friday, with career firefighters to be moved to a new organisation called Fire Rescue Victoria.

The CFA will become a volunteer-only organisation.

Mr Dunn fears the changes will drive a further wedge between paid and unpaid firefighters and lead to volunteers dropping off.

It follows issues with a controversial pay deal for paid firefighters pushed by the government.

“The decision doesn’t appear to be made with the safety of Victorians as its first priority,” Mr Dunn said.

“Getting the enterprise bargaining agreement through is the first priority.

“That enterprise bargaining agreement is giving the United Firefighters Union the power to run the organisation, which is why paid firefighters didn’t want it.”

Wodonga district operations manager Paul King spoke to both paid and unpaid firefighters on Friday after the announcement.

Like many, he is waiting to see the fine print.

“The process has got a long way to run to fully understand the implications,” he said.

“It’s got to sink in.

“The intention is for the community to get improved service.

“The community, which has received a high level of service for many years, will continue to receive that service tomorrow and next year.

“There’s no reason the level of service should deteriorate – it should only improve.”

There is no timeframe for the changes, but Mr King expects they will take years to implement. 

The Wodonga region has about 25 career firefighters, 20 other CFA employees and 4000 volunteers across 61 brigades.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Wodonga district president Max Wood doesn't believe much will change. 

But he has concerns about how those in CFA management who assist volunteers will fit into the picture. 

“That's the big question at the moment,” he said. 

“Your normal firefighter who steps on a truck and puts out fires, I don't really think they will notice that much change at all.”

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Wangaratta district president said a lack of government consultation made the plan illegal. 

“As far as the volunteers go, we may lose a few because they’re getting sick of it,” he said. 

“As a whole, as volunteers, we’re still out there to protect our communities. 

“Those who are dedicated to it, they’ll stick it out and we still have to work with the career staff. 

“We’re still going to have a good relationship with career staff.”