Ensuring our Fire Service is in the best shape
I have a huge amount of respect for our local firefighters and the job they do. Just recently I attended an awards ceremony to recognise two outstanding members of the Diamond Harbour Volunteer Fire Brigade for their respective 50 years and 25 years of service.
While the Diamond Harbour Brigade has been around for 60 years, it is also at the forefront of change, having been involved in trialling a prototype Fire Medical Vehicle (FMV), which is effectively an ambulance and a fire engine rolled into one. This initiative came about in response to our rural fire brigades, in particular, attending more medical-related incidents, such as heart attacks.
The current legislation around our fire services dates back to the 1970s, when a firefighter’s role was largely to put out fires but a lot has changed since then. The Government wants the legislation and the structure of our fire services to reflect the work our firefighters do today and to help our fire services to be in the best shape possible to deal with the realities of their role in the 21st century.
In May this year the Government released a discussion paper in response to the Swain Review setting out options for reforming the fire services.
Widespread consultation with stakeholders indicated that there was strong support for change from all the sectors – rural and urban, volunteers and career firefighters, small towns and big cities.
The importance of strong links between the fire services and their communities was emphasised, as was the need for strong support for volunteers, effective service delivery, and options for improving funding sources.
Based on this feedback the Government will proceed with the Swain Review’s recommendations to modernise the mandate of the fire services, to include their role in activities like urban search and rescues, motor vehicle assists, and extrications and other emergency services.
The Government has also agreed to bring together volunteer, career, urban and rural firefighters to form one, integrated, new national fire service. We want a strong regional voice in the fire services, so the new national organisation will be supported by a network of regional committees.
Legislation to replace the current Fire Service Act and the Forest and Rural Fires Act will be introduced to Parliament next year, with the new fire service expected to be in place by mid-2017.
The Government is committed to ensuring our fire services have the right level of funding and the right equipment, training, back-up, and support to continue to do the great job they do currently.