OUT at the Koonwarra Fire Station they’re concerned.
They’re annoyed as much as anything else and a bit angry too about what’s going on at a political level in Melbourne between the State Government and the United Fire Fighters Union (UFU).
And while several of the brigade’s members went down to Melbourne last Sunday to support the rally, back home at the Koonwarra shed, they were just getting on with the business.
As they have been doing annually for many years, a group of Koonwarra volunteer fire fighters gave up most of their Sunday morning to refresh their Level Two first aid skills with a trainer from Bass Coast Adult Education, Joanne Stuchbery.
It means that they’ll not only respond to fire and other emergencies, they are competent with first aid should their colleagues on the fireground or members of the public require it.
The training day included CPR and defibrillation techniques.
They followed up with a sausage sizzle lunch and a chat.
“Look it’s probably not going to affect us greatly here but there’s certainly a level of concern about what it might mean at a management and also an operational level,” said Koonwarra fire fighter Ross Considine.
“Anything that impacts our ability to do what we have been doing for a long time, and very well I might add, is a concern.
“It hasn’t been well explained why any changes are needed and it’s certainly not coming from the CFA,” he said.
“It’s all about the union getting more power. It’s 800 union members having a bitch, as against 40,000 volunteers who are happy with the situation as it is and the 800 seem to be trying to call the tune,” said Harry Forrester, also a volunteer at Koonwarra.
“But they don’t have the experience in dealing with wild fire that the country fire fighters do. By the same token, we don’t want to be fighting fires in the city either,” said Harry.
“The commitment to training by our volunteers is huge. We’re only as good as our skill level but that could all be affected if they try to stop us running our own show,” said Ross Considine.
“You would see a backlash from the volunteers and the community if that was to happen.”
As well as members from Koonwarra, the bigger towns locally, including Leongatha and Wonthaggi; sent volunteer fire fighters to Melbourne, swelling numbers into the thousands.
It had the desired result with a big response from MPs, including the Prime Minister and finally rejection of the EBA by the CFA.
The CFA Board met yesterday to discuss advice it has received on the proposed EBA and what it means for CFA.
It issued a statement ahead of a State Cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis enveloping the Premier Daniel Andrews.
“Based on this advice, the Board is not able to approve the EBA in its current form. We have serious concerns many of these proposed clauses are unlawful and we have legal advice that indicates CFA would be in breach of its statutory obligations,” said the CFA Board.
“Supporting clauses that provide UFU with the power to veto operational decisions would mean CFA contravenes the Country Fire Authority Amendment (Volunteer Charter) Act 2011. The CFA Board reinforces the Chief Officer’s role, under the CFA Act, that states he or she is responsible for the operational management and resource allocation.
Last week Acting CEO Joe Buffone foreshadowed the rejection of the EBA.
He said that while the agreement referred only to the “35 integrated brigades”, these brigades had regular contact and relied directly on cooperation with 210 fully volunteer brigades in their areas.
“3.3 million Victorians rely on our staff and volunteers to keep them safe from fires and other emergencies – half of Melbourne’s population, and 60% of its area depend on CFA response,” Mr Buffone said.
“Vitally, volunteers also provide surge capacity and support when we are faced with long duration campaign emergencies – particularly the tens of thousands of volunteers from outer Melbourne and large provincial cities. CFA has the capacity to put 200 volunteer-crewed tankers on the road within an hour.
“I have full confidence in their training, operational knowledge and experience, and their ability to make the right operational decisions on the fireground.
“I question then, the need to prescribe operational decision making for career staff in a workplace agreement which removes their authority and ability to be agile and flexible, based on the size, complexity, and risk of the job,” Mr Buffone said.
He said the current proposal presents barriers to fulfilling our responsibilities by:
• Removing or diminishing the ability of the Chief Officer to allocate and deploy resources flexibly and with agility
• Requiring agreement or providing veto to UFU over CFA management decisions
• Restricting or negatively impacting volunteers.
Locals fire up over CFA threat