By Micahel Giles
NEXT week, May 9 to 15, is National Volunteers Week and no acknowledgement of such an occasion could ever go by without showering high praise on the leading volunteer organisation in the bush – the Country Fire Authority.
There is simply no way that every tiny town or hamlet in Victoria with a fire station, truck and crew of volunteers could ever hope to cover the cost of what these wonderful men and women do for us.
Nor could we ever do without them in the event of an emergency; not only putting out urban fires and stopping them from spreading but also answering the call when bushfires rage as they do every year.
Theirs is the epitome of community spirit in the country and a lesson to us all that our great little communities could not function without volunteerism and why everyone must do something.
So it comes as a great concern to the community that the professional fire fighters and bureaucrats, represented by the United Firefighters Union, are trying to standover this iconic organisation, forcing it to make changes that would blow the CFA apart.
We’re told that Premier Daniel Andrews has stepped-in in an effort to force a resolution to this long-running dispute but the fire fighters union is a notoriously tough nut to crack.
Details of the EBA being consider by the Premier include union veto over equipment, vehicles and clothing issued by the CFA, a requirement that volunteer support staff be replaced and covered by career firefighters over time and regulations that union firefighters to report only to other paid staff and not to volunteers when responding to incidents.
It’s a situation that has openly caused problems in the past, and not just between the CFA and unions but also with department firefighters.
There’s also a crazy claim that seven paid firefighters should be on site at CFA-controlled incidents before firefighting starts.
It’s bureaucracy gone mad but it poses a great risk to the country if the unions have their way with Mr Andrews.
But it would be a very, very foolish person who misread the level of support that CFA brigades have in their local communities.
The theme for Volunteers Week next week is ‘Give Happy, Live Happy’, a clear reference to the message that all volunteers give, that they always get a lot more out of volunteering in terms of friendship and a sense of belonging to the community than what they put in in terms of time and effort.
And remember, everyone who lives in the country needs to volunteer – what are you doing?