Rural fire service up in air

Cameron Myles and Warren HatelyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Vasse MLA Libby Mettam and Busselton chief fire control officer Allan Guthrie are opposed to the establishment of a rural fire service, which they believe would be another layer of bureaucracy.
Camera IconVasse MLA Libby Mettam and Busselton chief fire control officer Allan Guthrie are opposed to the establishment of a rural fire service, which they believe would be another layer of bureaucracy. Credit: Cameron Myles Busselton Dunsborough Times

The future of a rural fire service is up in the air as volunteers and State politicians consider the cost of the recommendation from the Ferguson report into the 2016 Waroona bushfires.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam this week spoke out against the proposal, saying the service would create an “unnecessary” additional layer of bureaucracy.

Mrs Mettam said volunteers had raised their concerns about a rural fire service with her and she believed the money would be better spent on regional fire resources.

“The feedback I have received is it would be detrimental to change procedures that work extremely well in this region,” she said.

Before the March 11 election, then-premier Colin Barnett pledged to locate the service headquarters in Collie.

“That’s certainly not something I would support,” Mrs Mettam said.

Mrs Mettam said an incoming career fire station in Vasse was a “vital next step” in supporting the region, and would provide a “crucial increase” in emergency response capacity and capability.

Labor was unable to respond to Times inquiries as it shifted offices, despite reports Labor was now eyeing the high cost to establish any rural service.

Before the election, Labor leader Mark McGowan said the party had a bipartisan approach supporting the Ferguson recommendations, but noted the report did not outline how the service would be administered and funded.

Busselton chief bushfire control officer Allan Guthrie also spoke out against the proposal, suggesting a rural fire commissioner as an alternative.

Mr Guthrie said since the 2011 Margaret River bushfires, the Capes Enhancement Program, which brought additional resources and training to the region’s volunteers, “works wonders”.

“That’s the only good thing that came out of (the Margaret River fires),” he said.

Mr Guthrie pointed to similar rural fire services in the Eastern States, which he said did not work, and said the “them-against-us” culture between volunteers and the Department of Parks and Wildlife or Department of Fire and Emergency Services was not an issue any more.

“We just needed to tweak what we’ve got and fix it slightly,” he said. “We’ve come a long way in the last 20 years.”

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president and veteran firefighter Ian Earl said one concern was that putting the rural service under DFES control would produce exactly the situation volunteers did not want.

Cr Earl also raised concerns that money from the ratepayer-funded Emergency Services Levy could be used to create the rural bushfire service, saying the ESL was “there to support those people at the coal face of emergency services across the State”.

In Busselton, extensive City support for volunteer brigades is is funded by the ESL.

City of Busselton planning and development services director Paul Needham said the City still did not have a firm position on a rural fire service, because “there isn’t a detailed proposal for the City to have a view on”.

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