The Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, today announced it will support all 17 recommendations of the Special Inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fire by Euan Ferguson AFSM, including the implementation of a Rural Fire Service.
“Mr Ferguson has recommended the establishment of a Rural Fire Service and emphasises the importance of local knowledge and experience in fighting bushfires in his report,” Mr Barnett said.
“The State’s volunteer firefighters do a magnificent job and their expertise in fighting bush fires needs to be better utilised.
“The State Government will establish a Rural Fire Service as either a separate agency or sub-department of the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
“Consultation will take place with relevant agencies such as the Department of Parks and Wildlife, DFES, local government, volunteer firefighters and the United Firefighters Unions of WA to investigate the best model.”
In determining if a new agency or sub-department of the DFES, the Premier emphasised that the body would be highly independent and led by someone experienced in bushfire management.
Questions still need to be work through as to the control of the aerial firefighting resources and the allocation of the firefighting levy funds and equipment. He said many local Volunteer Brigades report through to local government and some to the DFES.
Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said that significantly, the implementation of many of the recommendations had already started ahead of this year’s bushfire season:
“Western Australia has suffered terrifying and catastrophic fires in recent years, and we will do everything we can to respond accordingly.”
“The State Government also supported in principle all 23 agency opportunities for improvement identified by Mr Ferguson.”
Minister Francis recognised the 26,000 Western Australian firefighters and emphasised his approach was to look at what could be achieved for this Summer and what would take longer. He said a number of initiatives will be a focus for immediate action:
- 500 trucks will be equipped with Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) devices by the start of December 2016.
- AVL will replace an old radio based management system to greatly aid incident management
- AVL trucks will also have distress alarm
- Preformed multi-agency Incident Management Teams that are activated when an incident occurs, rather than creating an IMT at the time of the incident
- ID cards for volunteers in high risk areas so that any issues around access to areas is immediately resolved
- Commence talking with the DFES, Volunteer Brigades and other stakeholders as to what the new Rural Fire Service and OEM will look like
Regional Development and Lands Minister Terry Redman said work was underway to address bushfire risk on Government-owned land which would be supported with an additional $15 million over four years from Royalties for Regions. Mr Redman said:
“The need for a greater emphasis on preventing and mitigating risk on Crown land was identified as a key issue by Mr Ferguson and the Government has reacted swiftly to allocate additional funding to this area ahead of the 2016-17 bushfire season.”
“The increased funding will be accessible to various State Government agencies responsible for land within and adjacent to regional townsites as part of Government’s strong desire to see a more co-ordinated approach to address risks on Crown land.”
The Government said many of Mr Ferguson’s recommendations were being implemented ahead of the upcoming bushfire season, including:
- establishing a $2.8 million critical messaging system by November 2016 which will issue warnings and provide advice on fire danger ratings and total fire bans. The information will be available on a new Emergency WA website to be promoted through the Are You Ready bushfire campaign
A new Office of Emergency Management (OEM), comprising the State Emergency Management Committee Secretariat and the Office of Bushfire Risk Management will also be established.
There would also be an independent review into the Emergency Services Levy. Mr Francis said:
“The new OEM will have a quality assurance role and report directly to the Minister for Emergency Services.”
“From the public comments received in response to the Ferguson Report, the majority of stakeholders and community members were supportive of his recommendations.
“While the Government is moving as quickly as possible to enact measures ahead of the bushfire season, structural recommendations will be developed in a considered way to ensure that as a community, we are more resilient to emergencies in the future.”