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April 2023 Newsletter

Be alert – not alarmed 

By Adam Barnett, VFBV Chief Executive Officer 

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” is one of my favourite quotes (for obvious reasons), attributed to many but believed to be originally put by French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal in the 1600’s.  And while I could probably start every month’s column with these words, the past month has been a particularly busy one.

The results of last week’s successful State Championships held over two successive weekends is not only detailed elsewhere on this page, but throughout this month’s edition of Fire Wise. A huge thank-you to all members, judges, officials and staff who contributed to a most successful event, and well done to all competing brigades and the almost 900 competitors who thrilled us with their incredible firefighting skills and professionalism.

I’ll start this month with the release of the Fire Services Implementation Monitor’s annual report, tabled in Parliament on the 23rd March 2023, where the independent monitor, the Hon. Niall Blair considered and reported on the progress of implementation of the Governments fire services reforms.

At a high level, the report recognises the good progress that has been made on implementation actions. Importantly he acknowledges that many of those positives have largely been made possible not by any formalised arrangements or plans, but rather the goodwill and personal endeavour of volunteers and staff who Mr Blair rightly describes as wanting the best outcomes for Victoria’s fire services and the Victorian community.

The report outlines slow progress and why actions are behind schedule, and highlights some of the challenges caused by the secondment arrangements, less than optimal volunteer utilisation, the sense of loss for those who have faced changes brought about by reform and how it was done. Of note are the warnings about the dangers around the future sustainability of the fire services, and in particular the risks of the chronic underfunding of capital funding for asset replacement and renewal given the number of assets (trucks and sheds) that are ageing beyond their useful life.

It was refreshing to see an independent statutory officer actually walk up to the issues and call them out by providing frank and fearless advice and putting our communities and the millions of people we protect at the heart of what fire service reform should be about – actually delivering better services and building strong and resilient communities.

The findings certainly vindicate the concerns raised by VFBV on behalf of volunteers during the reform debates around the predicted impacts on budgets, morale, culture, volunteer numbers and resultant declines in surge capacity.

At this juncture I am reminded of a Winston Churchill quote “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity: an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

And the latter best describes our approach to pursuing reform outcomes in a constructive way, seeking to minimise the harm while searching for the opportunities available. Like Mr Blair, I’m not interested in spin or empty promises, and continue to advocate and pursue outcomes that actually benefit our communities. VFBV remains focused on looking forward, not backward, and with the tightening fiscal environment that is facing Victoria,  the need to ensure every dollar that goes into fire services actually results in a community safety outcome is critical.

I was very pleased to note Mr Blairs recognition of the constructive approach to engagement and collaboration that VFBV has taken on behalf of volunteers, and I thank all of those who have contributed to our feedback loops and been involved in discussions thus far.

I commend the independent monitor and his team for their diligence and honesty and believe it speaks volumes about the importance of integrity by those charged with responsibility in the public safety space in which we operate.

FIRE DISTRICT REVIEW PANEL

This will be a difficult pivot, but the Governments Fire District Review panel published its determination of “change in fire risk” in the Victorian Government Gazette on 30 March 2023. To accompany the determination, the panel published a ‘supporting report’ on the same day.

The panel’s report claims to use a risk-based assessment of changes in fire risk in order to support its determination. Tellingly, despite a “state-wide analysis”, the panel has chosen to only identify 13 station response areas all in the country area of Victoria and covered by CFA.

It would be fair to say that I am somewhat disappointed by how the panel has chosen to go about its work, which has resulted in a high level of anxiety and concern for those brigades affected. Since the publishing of the panel’s determination, volunteers have expressed to us the detrimental impact these arrangements have had on morale.

To be clear, there is nothing unusual about fire services conducting analysis to track changes to fire risk to help inform and plan how service delivery may need to be modified to treat changes in risk. In fact, CFA and all predecessor fire agencies have done this for centuries. As risk changes, stations are upgraded or moved, appliances and equipment are added, and training and skill sets of responding crews is modified to meet the changing risk. All of course provided that government actually funds these necessary changes. The CFA model flexes up seamlessly to do precisely that, and does so in a highly efficient and cost effective way that ensures the Victorian taxpayer is not burdened with unnecessary costs better spent on hospitals and schools.

However, what is unusual about the arrangements the government has implemented is for this work to be done by people who are not experts in fire service planning, and who are engulfed in a cloud of political partisanship and bias that strikes fear and anxiety into all those impacted.

Volunteers expressed their anxiety about the potential for bias very early in discussions, and this featured prominently in our submission to the panel on their draft methodology in late 2021.

Sadly, the supporting report does little to alleviate volunteer concerns. While acknowledging that this is the panels first report and should have been a baseline, it then uses thirteen-year-old data to attempt to highlight what it thinks has been a change.

The first review should have been an opportunity to bed in their methodology and test the model for accuracy and set a baseline for “risk”. Instead, not only have we not had the benefit of understanding the methodology or testing it for accuracy, but the panel has thrown in a completely new metric and data source not even contemplated in their draft or final methodology nor discussion papers. The use of motor vehicle accidents and casualties dwarfs the number of casualties from fire and explosions by a significant factor, yet appears to have been lumped in with vehicle fires.

Aside from Rescue, last time I checked, the Victorian road safety action plan identifies the Department of Transport, Victoria Police, the Transport Accident Commission and the departments of Justice and Health as being responsible for road safety.

The panel may have a reasonable explanation beyond a simple correlation coefficient to justify why this should impact a fire service boundary, but by not engaging and then lumping it into their determination, stakeholders and agencies alike have been blindsided and are now seeking to understand this significant change. The question remains - if they made this change to their “final” methodology without warning - what other changes have they made that are less obvious?

This takes me to the most obvious concern. The empowering legislation in the Fire Rescue Victoria Act is very explicit. Section 4J states that the object of a review is to conduct a risk-based assessment within (a) the Fire Rescue Victoria fire district; and (b) the Country Area of Victoria. Well, the report is very clear on what parts of the Country Area of Victoria they have looked at, yet somewhat vague about what parts of the FRV district has experienced a changed in fire risk. To only analyse the FRV district in order to draw criticisms of CFA areas is neither fair, balanced, evidence based nor in the public interest.

“Change” in fire risk should be a neutral term, which can describe a risk that has risen or just as equally - declined. An unbiased panel would look equally at areas where the risk has declined and where a boundary may contract, just as it would for proposing a boundary be expanded. No such analysis is apparent within the supporting report. Perhaps given their remit, the panel should have looked for what change in underlying risk occurred when the former CFA integrated stations transferred to Fire Rescue Victoria, and they put new logo’s on the trucks so we could measure community outcome and benefit.

Putting to one side that none of the analysis actually defines community outcomes that a change in boundary is likely to achieve, nor how outcomes should be measured or monitored, my main advice to members worried about this panels work is to remain alert – but not alarmed.

While I’m disappointed, I am also not panicking. At the end of the day, the panels’ role is to provide a recommendation to the Minister for Emergency Services. The CFA has been given 9 months (of a possible 12 months they could have been provided) to provide a formal response to the panel’s determination. During this time, the panels review is suspended.

CFA have until January 30, 2024 to lodge its response, and the panel will then consider this response before providing a “recommendation” to the Minister by June 30, 2024. Upon receiving the advice, the Minister must then have regard to the capacity of each fire service, any implications on budget and resources and any other consequences before deciding to either make no changes, make some changes or ask the panel to conduct a further review.

During this time, we are seeking that CFA supports each of the brigades in trying to understand what the change in fire risk actually is, how it should be treated, and what additional resources they require from government in order to address the “changed risk.” We will then look to government to ensure it supports each brigade. To not fund an agency to improve an outcome, and then criticise that agency for the gap is at the heart of our discontent over reforms, and we will therefore monitor governments actions closely.

Given both CFA and VFBV formally highlighted the obvious shortfalls and limitations of the panel’s draft model with extensive submissions to the panels draft methodology, we will continue to seek greater transparency and less controversial engagement opportunities to help inform the panel’s recommendations.

And while I am confident that CFA will be able to ably demonstrate how it is meeting or plans to meet the changed risk, I really feel for those brigades who now have to do what should be routine business as usual in a very public and politically charged environment. I ask all members and all brigades to please support these brigades as they travel this unnecessary difficult journey. As we have said previously, there are grave risks to putting fire service modelling into that type of environment, and VFBV will continue to advocate that ‘surprises’ and cherry picked data are incompatible with good public policy and public safety outcomes. All brigades and firefighters, both volunteer and paid must know and have confidence in the data being used to measure their performance, and measurements should be transparent, and outcome focussed to ensure the Victorian public is not misled or misinformed about their safety.


State Championships Success

Over the last two weekends in March, the 2023 State Championships were held in Mooroopna for the third year in a row.

The first weekend of competition saw the Urban Junior Championship take place, where Melton A won the Grand Aggregate for the third consecutive year.  Melton A also took out the Under 17 Aggregate and Euroa A won the Under 14 Aggregate. 

The following weekend, the Rural Senior Championship took place on Saturday, with Hurstbridge A winning the Division 1 Aggregate, Sedgwick A won the Division 2 Aggregate and Dunolly A the Division 3 Aggregate.  Napoleons-Enfield was a runaway winner in the Rural Junior Championship on Sunday, winning the 11 – 13 years, 11 – 15 years and the Grand Aggregate winning an impressive eight out of ten events held on the day. 

Melton A followed up their Urban Junior win with success at the Urban Senior Championship, winning the Grand Aggregate.  Osborne Park B was successful in the B Section Aggregate and Euroa won the Female Aggregate for the second year in a row.  Full results of the 2023 State Championships can be found in this month’s edition of Fire Wise.

In total over both weekends almost 900 competitors took part with 157 teams entering the state championships, including teams from Harvey, Kellerberrin and Brunswick Junction brigades from Western Australia who travelled across the country to compete.

The State Championships would not be possible without the support of more than 200 judges and officials who volunteer their time over the two weekends.  VFBV also passes on our appreciation to the competitors, coaches, supporters and families of the competitors who keep the competitions going, and all the CFA staff and dignitaries that contributed to the championships success.  A special thank you should also be passed onto the CFA State Championships Committee and local host committee for the hard work and efforts in preparing the venue for the Championships particularly following flooding that affected much of Victoria in late 2022.

We also pass on our appreciation to the Greater Shepparton City Council for their continued support to the Championships, with this year marking the 11th time our Championships have been held in either Shepparton or Mooroopna since 1975.

VFBV’s competition committees will be meeting in the coming months to review this year’s Championships, if any brigades, competitors or spectators have any feedback they would like considered by either committee it can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

VALE 

It was with great sadness that we bode farewell to Association Life Member Quentin Turner AFSM who passed away on Friday 31st March 2023.

Quentin was a member of the Creswick brigade for many years, including serving as Captain for 24 years as well as holding other officer roles during his service to the brigade and surrounding Group.

Quentin served as an Executive Member for Region 15 to the Victorian Urban Fire Brigades Association (VUFBA) for more than 20 years from 1983 to 2004. During his time as an Executive Member he served two terms as Association Vice President (1986/87 and 1997/98) and three terms as Association President (1987/88, 1998/99 and 1999/20). Quentin was also one of the Association nominees to the CFA Board from July 1989 to December 1993. Quentin served terms on almost all VUFBA Association and CFA Joint Committees and was keenly involved in Championships for many years also.

As the inaugural Chair of VFBV (elected in October 2002), Quentin was one of the driving forces in bringing together both the Urban and Rural Associations as one unified body in 2008. He served as Chair until 2004 and continued on as a VFBV Board Member until October 2010. Quentin also played key roles in the development of the Volunteer Charter and the Volunteer Code of Conduct in the early 2000’s. Quentin was also a founding Trustee of the CFA & Brigades Donations Fund in 2004 and served as a Trustee for this Fund until 2019 including serving as Chair of the Trust for many years.

For his service to volunteers, Quentin was awarded the VUFBA Gold Star Award in 1992, VUFBA Life Membership in 1993 and was honoured with the Australian Fire Services Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2002 as well as a National Medal with first and second clasps and the Centenary Medal for service to the CFA and VUFBA. 

We send our thoughts, prayers and sympathy to Maisie, Mandy & Garry, Penny, Jason & Kristie, extended family, friends and loved ones and thank them most sincerely for sharing Quentin with us. We also extend our thoughts to fellow firefighters and members of the Creswick Fire Brigade. 

 

CFA Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy 

Feedback is being sought on a new draft policy covering Alcohol and other drugs, including prescription medication.

The draft policy  covers arrangements for the appointment of a ‘responsible officer’, when alcohol can be consumed and a ban on brigades from applying for a new liquor license, with existing licenses able to be kept.

All members are encouraged to read and provide feedback ASAP. Feedback is due by Monday 8th May 2023.

Please visit the VFBV website for more information and a copy of the draft policy.

 

VFBV Board Positions 

Vacancies on the VFBV Board will arise when the terms of four VFBV Board members expire on the 1st October 2023. Of the four members whose terms are expiring, two are eligible for re-appointment.

VFBV invites applications from any CFA volunteer who is motivated by the prospect of making a difference and believes they have the skills to contribute to the VFBV Board.

The role of a board member involves contributing to VFBV direction, policy determination and monitoring the performance and governance of the Association. This includes actively contributing to policy discussion, consulting with CFA volunteers and contributing to the identification and management of strategic issues.

VFBV is seeking applications from gender and culturally diverse candidates in addition to a diverse range of skills and experience including applications from diverse brigade types and classifications.

Members should familiarise themselves with the VFBV Board member role statement and key selection criteria available from the VFBV website or via the office at (03) 9886 1141.

Applications close on Monday 28th August 2023.

 

CFA Board Positions 

The CFA Act recognises that it is important that the CFA Board has strong volunteer expertise, knowledge and an understanding of CFA volunteers. To support this, four of the skills-based CFA Board members are appointed by the Minister for Emergency Services from a panel of names submitted by VFBV.

This year, the terms of two volunteer nominees will expire in December 2023, with both members eligible for re-appointment. One is for a volunteer from brigades predominantly serving rural communities, and the other being for a volunteer from brigades predominantly serving urban communities.

CFA volunteers who believe they have the skills, experience and capacity to make a contribution to the Board of CFA are invited to apply. In addition to volunteer experience and knowledge, nomination will have regard to any of the following - knowledge of or experience in; commercial; technical; operational; legal or financial matters; expertise in fire or emergency management; land management; or any other field relevant to the performance of the functions of the CFA.

VFBV is seeking applications from gender and culturally diverse candidates in addition to a diverse range of skills and experience including applications from diverse brigade types and classifications.

Members should familiarise themselves with the CFA Board Charter and further information on the application process is available from the VFBV website or via the office at (03) 9886 1141.

Applications close on Monday 26th June 2023.

 

Nominations for Trust Fund

VFBV is calling for nominations to the CFA and Brigades Donations Fund.  

The purpose of the fund is to raise and receive money and donations of goods and services from the public for distribution to brigades to assist with costs of purchasing and maintaining firefighting equipment, facilities, training and administrative expenses which are associated with their firefighting functions.

Following nominations, five new or reappointed members will be appointed by the VFBV Board to serve as VFBV Trustees on the fund for a term of two years.

All current trustees are eligible for re-appointment.

Please visit the VFBV website for details. Nominations close on Monday 19th June 2023.

 

Fire Wise – April 2023 online only edition

The April 2023 edition of Fire Wise has been published online only, this edition and past editions are available from the Fire Wise website.

You can support Fire Wise and the role it plays as an independent voice in keeping volunteers informed by becoming a subscriber. To become a Fire Wise subscriber visit the Fire Wise website or contact the Managing Editor of Fire Wise, Gordon Rippon-King either by phone 0402 051 412 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

Recent articles on the VFBV website

Feedback Requested – Draft CFA Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy

Nominations for CFA and Brigades Donations Fund

VFBV Board Vacancies - Invitation to Apply

CFA Board Positions - Invitation to Apply

2023 State Urban Junior Championship Results

2023 State Rural Senior Championship Results

2023 State Rural Junior Championship Results

2023 State Urban Senior Championship Results

Open for Consultation Dashboard

 

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Read 3782 times Last modified on Friday, 07 April 2023 12:39
CFA Volunteers are the unpaid professionals of our Emergency Services. VFBV is their united voice, and speaks on behalf of Victoria's 60,000 CFA Volunteers.

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