'Yellow Angels' want fairer funding

27 Nov, 2013 01:00 AM
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Often dubbed the
Allocation of funds from the Emergency Services Levy needs to be completely reviewed
Often dubbed the "yellow angels", nearly 26,000 farmers and community members will gear up to protect their local communities against the threat of bushfires this summer.

AS the bushfire season roars up again, Bush Fire Services throughout the State are at the ready.

But their ability to do what is necessary is being constrained by the level of access to funding and resources.

Often dubbed the "yellow angels", nearly 26,000 farmers and community members will gear up to protect their local communities against the threat of bushfires this summer.

The voluntary work will be done, but according to Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFBWA) WA vice president Dave Gossage, it will be done within the resource and budgetary frameworks provided.

"The association continues to pursue fair and equitable funding with the same rules for all, in the interest of all volunteers and their communities throughout the State," he said.

"The association notes that access to equitable funding and resources for training via the Emergency Services Levy, makes it difficult for fair and equitable skills development in the local government volunteer bush fire service, which provides the State with more than 80 per cent of its emergency services response capability."

Mr Gossage said members of AVBFBWA were concerned more needed to be done in the area of prevention and mitigation, which required a greater level of funding and resources.

In a written statement, Mr Gossage said:

"The association continues to express concerns in relation to high fuel loadings on private property and all classes of government lands.

"The association acknowledges the State has allocated a small pool of funding to prevention activities, but it is not sufficient enough to undertake the required activities or resources needed to fulfil these activities.

"We acknowledge that the government is looking at undertaking fuel management mapping trials which is positive."

Mr Gossage said although numbers of bushfire volunteers did fluctuate, members were concerned it was becoming more difficult to volunteer with metro-centric views imposed on how volunteers did business.

"Sadly, decision-makers fail to understand the flow-on consequence to community volunteerism, and that we volunteer to protect our communities," he said.

"Hence why our motto is, 'formed by the community for the community', and we are proud to be the Local Government Bush Fire Service Brigades.

"Local Government's understand community."

Small, independent, think-tank, Bush Fire Front chairman Roger Underwood said the allocation of funds from the Emergency Services Levy needed to be completely reviewed and restructured.

"As I understand it, the bulk of the money from the Emergency Services Levy goes to funding the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and very little of it ends up in the places where it should be which is actually to those doing the work on the ground," Mr Underwood said.

He agreed that bushfire preparedness and damage mitigation needed to be a greater focus and should receive more financial support and resources.

"We need a much more intense focus on fuel reduction rather than fighting fires after they start," he said.

Mr Underwood expressed concern over the potential for the responsibility of local brigades to be transferred to DFES head office and away from local shires.

"I think it is better if people are working locally under local control," he said.

"My experience in the past has been that DFES focus has been city-centric.

"My concern would be that local knowledge and experience would be lost."

Mr Underwood said every South West shire should have its own full-time force of fire management staff to carry out burning and other related work.

Farm Weekly contacted DFES for comment, but the department had not replied as Farm Weekly went to press.

Speaking about the coming summer, Mr Gossage said people should consider whether they are prepared if a fire was to start now.

"They should know the status of insurance coverage for crops, fences, home and contents, sheds, equipment and temporary accommodation, in the event the house is damaged," he said.

"It is also important to establish a plan for plants and animals, and to determine whether family members can be easily contacted."

When asked how farmers and rural communities could better prepare for the bushfire season, Mr Gossage said they needed to work with communities and local governments to ensure they undertook risk management of their communities.

"From this, communities and local governments can formulate a plan on how to reduce the risks for the following seasons and for future years," he said.

"We understand in this tough economic climate that funding and resources are scarce and we encourage everyone to work together as a team.

"As a team it's our community's safety that is at risk."

Locals Against Wildfires secretary John Guest said it was important for people to focus on areas within their shires that were at risk.

"That includes reducing fuel loadings around public buildings," he said.

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