Rural Fireys without Blue Cards now allowed to fight fires
THE axe hovering over thousands of Queensland’s Rural Fire Service volunteers over their failure to apply for Blue Cards has been pulled away for the time being.
Controversy has raged over the Queensland Government’s decision to make holding a Blue Cards mandatory, with those unwilling to participate forbidden from entering fire grounds.
This raised concerns in fire prone communities that Rural volunteer firefighting ranks would be decimated, potentially impacting on vital fire hazard mitigation activities during the cooler months.
After pushing back the deadline several times over the past year, Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Craig Crawford has backed away from enforcing his March 31 deadline, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every Rural Fire Service member is highly valued by QFES,” Mr Crawford said.
“COVID restrictions have prevented QFES from having the opportunity to reach out to personnel for one-on-one conversations.
“It is for this reason that I have asked QFES to delay any further processing until after the next fire season, enabling the Rural Fire volunteers to continue.
“This will ensure that QFES can speak with every volunteer.”
Mr Crawford said contrary to reports, the number of RFS personnel who are yet to apply for a Blue Card will not impact QFES’ ability to maintain an effective fire and emergency response, including hazard mitigation activities that are currently under way.
“There are existing strategies in place to support areas where the ability of local personnel to respond to incidents may be limited,” he said.
“QFES personnel who didn’t apply for a Blue Card by the deadline date of March 31 this year, received a letter late last month advising them they’d be unable to continue their duties without one.”
Mr Crawford said more than 22000, or 82 per cent of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services personnel have now applied for a Blue Card, with the number climbing weekly.
He said the safety of children was paramount to the Queensland Government, and one of the range of measures put in place to ensure their protection was Blue Cards.
“I’m pleased to see most QFES personnel have applied for a Blue Card as part of the Working with Children Act that was passed in state parliament,” he said.
“Nearly 13,000 volunteers in the Rural Fire Service have applied for a Blue Card and just over 12,000 personnel have been issued Blue Cards – or 74 per cent.”
Rural Fire Brigades Association general manager Justin Choveaux said he understood that all brigade members could now stay, attend their brigades, do hazard reduction burning and fight fires.
“With fire season coming, getting as much hazard reduction burning as possible in before the weather changes,” Mr Choveaux said.
“We need every brigade member we have and I hope that the members who have resigned over this fiasco come back to help defend their communities.
“The RFBAQ have a meeting with the QFES Commissioner on Monday and at that meeting we will again table our proposal that will not only make children safer but also keep Rural Fire Brigade membership strong.”
He said this was the same proposal that had been attempting to get the State Government and Fire Service to pay attention to since October last year.
Advocate for Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland in Central Queensland Robert Lang said the minister’s response concerned him in two main areas.
“Firstly, we have absolutely no idea what the status of a lot of brigades are at the moment. No one seems to have a handle on those brigades whose numbers have been compromised by their unwillingness to apply for Blue Cards,” Mr Lang said.
“There will be numbers of volunteers out there who have already walked away and probably won’t return.
“The Minister’s response to those who have received letters of dismissal I thought was vague to say the least and certainly did not invite them to return to their brigades.
He said the other problem the Minister’s dismissal of the availability of brigades whose numbers were already low for responding to an incident.
“The minister said plans were in place to manage this but this does not appear to have been shared with brigades at this point. As always the devil is in the detail,” he said.
“We could refer to this whole scenario as a perfect example of ‘blind mans bluff’.”
LNP Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Lachlan Millar said the Queensland Government’s backflip on blue cards for rural fireys showed the implementation had been bungled from the very beginning.
“Queensland is only months away from bushfire season and our volunteer rural firefighters will play a vital role in protecting communities across the state,” Mr Millar said.
“The whole time the Palaszczuk Labor Government spent threatening to sack our rural fireys should have spent working with them and getting our state bushfire-prepared.
“Labor Minister Craig Crawford must personally apologise to each and every rural fire volunteer today over this fiasco and the way he has treated our rural fireys.”
He said Queensland couldn’t afford to have thousands of rural fireys hand in their badges in the lead up to bushfire season and Labor pushing back the deadline for a third time is an admission they have botched this whole process.
“Clearly Labor should never have threatened to sack our rural fireys,” he said.
“Rural volunteer firefighters have been treated appallingly by Labor throughout this entire saga, and it’s still not over.
“An LNP Government led by Deb Frecklington would work with our rural fireys, not threaten them with the sack.”