Firies need support for training ahead of dangerous summer

ISSUE STILL NOT RESOLVED: Shadow Emergency Services Minister Brad Battin has been talking to volunteer firefighters for almost two years around EBA complaints.
ISSUE STILL NOT RESOLVED: Shadow Emergency Services Minister Brad Battin has been talking to volunteer firefighters for almost two years around EBA complaints.

Firefighters are heading into a dangerous summer season lacking the training they believe is necessary to protect their communities.

The issue of training was the number one complaint Shadow Emergency Services Minister Brad Battin has received during his travels around Victoria talking to CFA volunteers.

He met with about 10 people in Yarrawonga and 15 in Cobram on Monday night, then another three in Wangaratta on Tuesday.

The volunteers from Milawa and Eldorado told Mr Battin and Ovens Valley MP Tim McCurdy that training was a “mixed basket” when it came to requirements for paid and volunteer members, and different in each district.

The contentious proposal for separate paid staff and volunteer fire services remains before Parliament and Mr Battin said another conversation this week with Upper House crossbench MPs - who did not support the government - could not break the deadlock.

He said any change to the enterprise bargaining agreement would likely not occur until after the fire season.

Firefighter opinions varied from supporting and opposing the divide in services completely, to having concerns about the FRV model with volunteers reporting to a paid operations manager who had never worked with volunteers before.

“The cultural difference between CFA and MFB is different,” Mr Battin said.

Almost two years of enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations had been tough on many CFA members, who were waiting for it to “rear its ugly head again”.

“I get the feeling it’s worn them down a bit,” Mr McCurdy said.

Volunteers told the politicians the government could take its time because it knew firefighters would always “turn up and squirt water out” during a fire.

Other issues raised included the possibility of handing control of operations to Fire Rescue Victoria, worries over union interference and the age of the brigade trucks.

They also said brigades wanted surety around funding for trucks - a guaranteed number each year, instead of chunks of money announced at different times.

Mr Battin said he had encountered stories of wasted money within regions.

“The money spent in some areas is ridiculous - the levels of staff is well over the top. At the end of the day, the service is about community safety, not about paybacks,” he said.

Mr Battin also advocated for more support for volunteer brigades expected to conduct their own recruiting.

“There should be regional packages - why aren’t CFA saying to all brigades ‘we’ll put an ad in the paper for the next four weeks so if you want to do a letterbox drop, do it in those four weeks,” he said. “The CFA needs to get on board and run a training course straight after that.”