PROUD seems to be an understatement for those living in the Kojonup area, with almost all of their bushfire volunteers having undergone the necessary training to assist in the event of a fire under the State's new work health and safety legislation.
The inundation of local bushfire volunteers that have enrolled in the DFES Rural Fire Awareness course, facilitated by the Shire of Kojonup, follows recent announcements of changes to the State's Work Health and Safety Act 2020, which clarifies volunteers as 'workers'.
Changes to the WHS Act and its regulations, due to come into effect on January 1, 2022, sparked much concern among local governments and bushfire volunteers due to it potentially increasing their responsibility and liability for the welfare of local bushfire volunteers.
Shire of Kojonup manager of regulatory services Robert Jehu said about 400 of their bushfire volunteers had already received their DFES accreditation and estimated that there were only a handful of bushfire volunteers left within the shire who hadn't completed the training course.
"From a local government point of view, we are amazed and very proud of the local volunteers that turned up for the training - we certainly didn't expect the sorts of numbers that we've been getting and it's a real credit to the community that they've accepted it and got the job done," Mr Jehu said.
The Shire of Kojonup also looked into utilising a recognition of prior learning (RPL) model to ensure that their bushfire volunteers had completed the necessary training under the new WHS legislation, but Mr Jehu said time constraints prompted the Shire to instead go down the path of providing the DFES training courses.
"RPL is the smartest way to go, but we only had a two-week window and needed surety that we had ticked every box, so that's why we opted to do these accreditation courses instead," Mr Jehu said.
"Every shire will do what best works for them and their volunteers though."
With about 95 percent of people within their local government area having received their first COVID-19 vaccination, Mr Jehu said he didn't think the vaccination mandate for bushfire volunteers would have a large impact on the region's bushfire volunteer numbers.
"There had been a little bit of confusion in that space and we did actually have a couple people that had already completed the accreditation course say they wouldn't have if they had known about the vaccination mandate," Mr Jehu said.
"But I think because we have such a high rate of people that are vaxed already that it won't be much of an issue for our volunteers."
Since January 1, 2021, DFES has delivered nearly 250 bushfire courses across WA to help local governments maintain their local bush fire brigades.
DFES Rural Fire Division executive director Murray Carter said the number of courses was consistent with demand in recent years.
"Training is delivered in a regional environment and considers a variety of factors such as volunteer retention, service delivery and succession planning," Mr Carter said.
"Courses teach the basics of fire development, highlight the hazards associated working on the fireground and how to maintain your safety when working in potentially dangerous and challenging conditions."
Mr Carter said the recently-established DFES Rural Fire Awareness course was well-received in WA's rural and agricultural communities, with the basic six-hour course covering the fundamentals of fire behaviour, suppression strategies and basic
About 30 women from the Shire of Kojonup received their accreditation last week when they attended the Rural Fire Awareness course at the Kojonup Memorial Hall, with the participant's response overwhelmingly positive.
Moodiarrup cropping and sheep farmer Kylie Schinzig said she found out about the event through a friend, and initially thought it was just going to be a bushfire information day.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I realised it was an accreditation course," Ms Schinzig said.
"We had a fire on the family farm when I was young, so I am just in awe of this sort of training.
"My husband and son go to fires regularly, so it's good to have more awareness about what they're doing when they go to a fireground."
Melissa Gregory, who's partner works for a local farmer at Jingalup, said she attended the course so that she could also provide support to her neighbours in the event of a fire.
"Normally you assume that if you're needed at a fire you just go, but then to be told actually no, you aren't even going to be able to deliver sandwiches to a fire ground without this training - that prompted me to attend the course," Ms Gregory said.
"To have the knowledge of what to do, where to go, who to call etc. is all really important.
"It was a bit of a refresher course, but something new that I learnt was what to do if you're the first one at the site of a fire.
"I'm impressed by the number of women doing the training, I think it says a lot about our sense of community."
Prior to the announcement of changes to the WHS legislation, it was already a requirement for Kojonup Bushfire Association fire control officers to have undergone some formal training.
However Kojonup Bushfire Association president and farmer Digby Stretch said the Shire of Kojonup facilitating the DFES Rural Fire Awareness course for all of its volunteers was a direct consequence of the new legislation.
"We know that most of our farmers already have a huge amount of experience in bushfire fighting as it's part of our vocation, but it doesn't mean that the training isn't a good thing to do," Mr Stretch said.
"We will grumble about these regulations that the government is dropping upon us without having a good understanding of how the bush actually works, but we will be maintaining Kojonup's outstanding fire record over the years and still be going out and putting out fires.
"It's just really unfortunate that our legislators don't have a good grasp of how we look after emergency situations in the bush.
"To not be acknowledged by the government in the way they have bought the legislation and regulations in - it's very disappointing."
Speaking to Farm Weekly at the ladies training day last week, Mr Stretch said the course acted more as a refresher for experienced farmers in the region.
"I think everybody would have gotten something out of the training, as things tend to move a bit over time," Mr Stretch said.
"Initially today was just going to be an information day for whoever ran the homesteads, but we ended up turning it into the full accreditation course because of the demand."
With the new regulations for the WHS Act yet to be finalised, Mr Stretch said the association and the Shire of Kojonup were using their "best guess" to make sure they had ticked all of the boxes so they would be covered under the new legislation.
"The buy-in by the locals has been sensational given it was not something we had planned on doing as we started harvest," he said.
"Absolute bouquets to the Shire of Kojonup and Kojonup Bushfire Association for getting behind the volunteers to get this together in a very short period of time.
"I think it says a lot about how people in the bush just get on with things and do what they have to do so they get the job done."
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