Adelaide Park firey calls for more help
RURAL firefighting volunteers are struggling to cover a range of expenses but Mark White is concerned that a government designed compensation solution wouldn’t include everyone.
On and off for 40 years now, Mr White has volunteered for Rural Fire Service brigades around CQ.
He’s been the Second Officer of the Adelaide Park Brigade for the past 10 years and describes this year’s season as particularly hard.
This was due to the lack of rainfall combining with windy weather, impairing the brigade’s ability to do widespread mitigation burns.
Since April, he estimated the brigade had received 48 call-outs to fight fires.
While he doesn’t attend every summons, Mr White admited that balancing the demands of running his computer business and putting out fires was eating into his time, pushing him almost to the point of burning out.
In addition to being on the fire front, there was an array of supportive tasks that he was performing during the Cobraball bushfire including ferrying fuel, food and water through roadblocks to support firefighters.
Adelaide Park brigade has been unable to respond external deployment requests due to a lack of supervising officers, along with financial and work contraints.
“I don’t get paid anything (when away fighting fires). We’re all in the same boat,” Mr White said.
“It’s alright with everyone donating time and money but in the end, someone’s got to pay for it.”
He worried about the toll that it was taking on members of his brigade who were retired and unemployed.
“They’re incurring expenses, and have got no way for recompense either. They’re the ones swept under the carpet and are forgotten about regularly,” he said.
“We’re always done it as volunteers but if you’re looking at compensation, it’s got to be practical, that’s fair to everyone.
“I know it’s a bit of a hard one but it’s probably something that everyone needs to sit down and have a hard look at.”
Mr White said one fix was not going to do it for everyone.
“I think there will need to be a couple of different ways to do it because it’s not always going to get to the person that needs it otherwise,” he said.
He regarded a strategy of employer compensation, similar to that by the Army Reserve, as helpful for supporting employers reluctant to release their staff.
But he said small businesses needing man power on the ground and would be hurt.
Providing tax deductions was one useful compensation strategy but when it came to helping small businesses, retirees, and unemployed, he said “you only pay tax if you make money”.
“One way is if they look at recompense small businesses for their employees on a basis of minimum wage for days they do,” he said.
“Some bigger businesses like Hastings Deering, they might prefer to have some tax breaks but other smaller businesses would rather see something tangible.
He said shrinking numbers of volunteer recruits could be addressed by putting a compensation strategy in place.
“We’ve been really struggling new members for the past eight years and only had a couple of new members in the past four years,” he said.
Mr White took exception at a comment from Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying saying volunteers were doing it “because they want to be out there”.
“I’m not sure if that’s true,” he said, instead suggesting their actions were motivated by self-interest and a desire to protect their communities.
“I’m sure most of us would rather be out there fishing but someone’s got to deal with it,” he said.