Bushfire brigade row fails to halt DFES talks

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade will go ahead with the DFES transition talks, alongside Rosa Brook volunteers.
Camera IconWallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade will go ahead with the DFES transition talks, alongside Rosa Brook volunteers. Credit: Sean Blocksidge

Internal conflict around the proposed transfer of two local fire brigades to State Government control looks unlikely to derail the process.

At last week’s Shire of Augusta-Margaret River council meeting in Augusta, president Ian Earl accepted the Bushfire Advisory Committee’s recommendation and moved to note the concerns of some other brigades.

The move came after calls from BFAC for councillors to rescind approval for the Wallcliffe and Rosa Brook volunteer bushfire brigades to open talks, via Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown, about transferring to Department of Fire and Emergency Services administration.

Cr Earl told the Times there was no appetite among councillors to go back on the previous decision.

Instead, the council unanimously backed formal recognition of the other bri-gades’ concerns. That included volunteers’ opinion that “councillors have failed to consider the impact of this decision on the other eight brigades and the division that this decision is causing”.

Cr Earl also moved to improve communication from the Shire with other brigades “on any proposed transfer model to assess the impact it will have on them operationally prior to bringing it back to council for endorsement”.

The Shire president said although the transfer debate was “reasonably divisive”, all volunteers were still working together to protect the community.

“There’s no real angst in the room,” he said.

“Members know when it all hits the fan, we’re going to be out there together (fighting fires).”

He noted volunteers could “stop ringing the CEO every week” now that the transition process was going forward.

Cr Brian Daniel said he genuinely wanted to understand the frustrations of volunteers in other brigades.

“What is the reasoning why the other brigades don’t want that to happen – and I’m hoping that comes through in the (final) report,” he said.

Deputy Shire president Pauline McLeod, who moved the original motion supporting Wallcliffe’s request for transfer, said even better communication would be welcome.

“It underlined to me a lack of communication of the process of what happened here or could happen here,” she said.

“Council has done the right thing and listened to the community.

“We can now move forward and look at what we could do.”

The BFAC motion was initiated by the Karridale and Cowaramup brigades.

The Shire’s bushfire administration would undergo more change in future months after sustainable development director Dale Putland’s position was made redundant and a new directorship job advertised combining infrastructure and development services, which oversees volunteer brigades.

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