ONE in five of the State's emergency primary fleet vehicles are operating beyond their intended design life, with some of WA's career and volunteer firefighters set to be put in vehicles that are more than 20-years-old this fire season.
It was recently revealed in State Parliament that the number of WA's primary fleet vehicles operating beyond their design life had increased from 200 last year to 263 this year.
Primary fleet vehicles are the first response vehicles to arrive at incidents for the State Emergency Service and Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).
While the approximate service life of DFES light tankers is 10 years and the service life of many of its heavy tankers is 15 years, questions in 2023-2024 State Budget estimates revealed 140 light tankers were operating past their service life, with several of these vehicles still in operation at 20 years - double their intended service life.
The Nationals WA MP for the Agricultural Region and emergency services spokesman Martin Aldridge said the increased safety risks associated with the older age of these vehicles were being compounded by their placement in remote regions across WA, as well as consistent job shortages for many of DFES primary fleet technicians.
With their older age potentially making them more vulnerable to defects and breakdowns, Mr Aldridge said the vehicles should be relocated to metropolitan and outer-metropolitan areas, where servicing and help could be more easily accessed if/ when issues occur.
"The majority of these vehicles are located in the State's more remote locations - so in areas like the Kimberley, the Pilbara, the Goldfields where you often have to rely a lot on your vehicle more than you would in places like the Wheatbelt or the city," Mr Aldridge said.
"So why not prioritise these remote locations over perhaps metropolitan or outer-city areas, because when you're operating in a suburb of Perth you have back-up only a few kilometres away, but if, for example, your vehicle is located 500km from Port Hedland - well good luck."
Mr Aldridge attributed the delay in new vehicles being brought online for the State's fire and emergency services to the State government not electing to renew contracts in 2019 with local fire truck manufacturing companies in Narrogin and Collie, which, at the time, had 25 years experience in constructing fire trucks and appliances.
"The government put the building of our fire trucks out to tender and I think the fact that these companies didn't get the tender has actually played a far bigger role in the disruption of fire truck manufacturing in WA than COVID ever did," Mr Aldridge said.
"Even if the government denies that, COVID is only 2020 onwards and some of these trucks should have been replaced 13 years ago."
While DFES recently issued pay increases for its mechanical and auto electrician fleet technician roles, Mr Aldridge said it was also frustrating that these increases had not been announced sooner to help with filling vacancies ahead of this bushfire season.
"These jobs are far broader than just servicing fire trucks - they manage rescue and pumping equipment and maintain all of the other components on a firetruck, so they're pretty skilled technicians, and DFES just wasn't competitive enough in terms of what they were paying them," Mr Aldridge said.
"They've finally realised that with this latest pay increase, but it's pretty late in the game as we've been in this situation for at least the last two to three years."
Acknowledging that the retirement of some long-serving fleet technicians and workforce attrition had also resulted in the current workforce shortages, Mr Aldridge said both of these factors meant the State's firefighters are heading into, what is predicted to be, a challenging summer with about half the number of fleet technician positions filled for some roles.
When asked about the current fleet technician shortages, a DFES spokesperson said it was "continuing to explore every avenue to find more mechanical technicians amid a nation-wide skills shortage".
With the vacancies advertised on JobsWA, DFES website and Aboriginal Services Jobs Board, the spokesperson said DFES was also undertaking a targeted recruitment campaign to provide better exposure to the vacancies via social media platforms, Seek and LinkedIn.
"Fleet technicians are mobilised throughout Western Australia to carry out maintenance work on-location where required," the spokesperson said.
"DFES also has arrangements in place with multiple service providers for maintenance support for vehicles for the 2023-24 southern high-threat period.
"This means that our own technicians are supported by contractors throughout regional WA who can service our operational fleet."
In response to Farm Weekly's questions around the increased percentage of vehicles operating past their intended service life, the spokesperson said all deployed DFES vehicles were "functional and serviceable".
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