Fireys blast media policy

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

Volunteer firefighters are unhappy with an edict from the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River threatening disciplinary action if they have unauthorised contact with the media or politicians.

Correspondence was sent to all brigades on December 10 warning volunteers the Shire considered all firefighters employees under the terms of the Shire’s media policy.

Although volunteers are not paid employees, they are still expected to follow the Shire’s staff code of conduct policy.

“Please ensure that all your brigade members are aware of these important Shire policies and their relevant responsibilities,” Shire community emergency services manager Adam Jasper wrote.

“Any further transgressions of the Shire’s policies and procedures may result in disciplinary action being considered by the CEO.”

The instructions also apply to brigade social media pages, with guidelines for posts included in the Shire media policy.

The Times understands the most severe breaches could see members expelled from brigades.

Family members of brigade volunteers told the Times they were disappointed by the letter.

They said the instructions were heavy-handed because volunteers gave up their time and risked their lives for the community.

Fireys did not expect financial compensation for their efforts, they said, but if the Shire wanted to treat them as staff, the benefits given to Shire employees should be extended to them.

Volunteers said they also felt powerless in the face of the instructions because fire brigades were the lifeblood of the Augusta-Margaret River community and members would not quit their important roles.

Responding to questions from the Times, Mr Jasper said the instructions were necessary.

“It is incredibly important that the public receives clear, consistent messaging to ensure there is trust in fire authorities as this is critical for compliance, particularly in the event of an emergency,” he said.

“Unintentional misinformation regarding fire has the potential to cause public confusion, distrust and non-compliance in the event of an emergency which can ultimately impact on ability to preserve lives and property.”

Volunteers could still provide information to the media as long as they went through the formal channels and their comments were reviewed. The Shire classed volunteers as employees because they were “required to undertake local government inductions as they will need to report into a local government management and framework ... (and) are provided with local government insurance and ... firefighting assets”.

“The Shire has excellent established working relationships with its brigades and their members,” Mr Jasper told the Times.

“We have nearly 500 active members, which we believe is a reflection on the positive environment and strong leadership, from management through to captain level.”

The move coincides with the Wallcliffe and Rosa Brook brigades seeking to transfer to control under the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, which was not related to the new edict.

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