Testing time for volunteers

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Wallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade will test direct management under DFES.
Camera IconWallcliffe Volunteer Bushfire Brigade will test direct management under DFES. Credit: Sean Blocksidge

Shire councillors have given the nod for the Wallcliffe Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade to look at going under WA Government control.

The decision on Wednesday night saw unanimous support for the request from volunteers to undertake a two-year management trial under the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, which requires development of a memorandum of understanding.

The request, raised by Shire of Augusta-Margaret River Cr Pauline McLeod, came from the brigade, which was stressed and under the pump meeting administration requirements due to its dual-use status.

After the decision, the brigade said the change would allow simplification of roles and reduce pressure on volunteers.

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“During the trial period, the brigade will amalgamate its two key roles of bushfire fighting and structural firefighting to operate under one administrative structure,” the brigade said. “This follows a long, drawn-out process which has been ongoing for the last six years, and saw two failed attempts to bring all the Shire’s brigades under State control.

“The new structure will allow for a streamlined call-out process (and) singular policies and procedures rather than the old duplicated system that is currently in place.

“The community are assured that there will be no decrease in brigade commitment to protect life or property ... and that our 80 volunteer members will be better protected and our community a safer place.”

The Wallcliffe move comes after the council recently discontinued discussions about all brigades moving to the DFES model because a trial was considered too hard to unpick if the decision proved unsatisfactory, and not all brigades had agreed. On Wednesday night, Cr McLeod said it was important to listen to volunteers who put their lives on the line.

“They believe it will make their job of protecting our community easier,” she said. “We would be very ill-advised not to listen to them.”

Cr Naomi Godden said volunteers wanted the switch to happen faster than appeared likely.

But development of an MoU would help clarify future roles for volunteers, and Shire president Ian Earl said it would give chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown the Shire’s first chance to liaise directly with DFES.

Cr Earl said the process would test DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm’s appetite for taking on volunteer brigades, which was widely viewed as the future of bushfire management in WA.

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