September 17, 2021
AgForce has called on the State Government to give rural firefighters “the recognition and legal protection they deserve”.
The call follows a submission from the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (RFBAQ) to an independent review into the future operations, structure and sustainability of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.
AgForce says despite the uniforms and flashing lights, rural firefighters have no more rights under legislation than the general public.
An example of the difference in empowerment is included in the RFBAQ’s submission to the KPMG review:
“… Queensland volunteer firefighters are not classified as fire officers. To best show the lunacy of this was during the Commonwealth Games where the local Rural Fire Brigades were part of the co-ordinated State emergency response and recovery plan yet had to drive their fire trucks on the highway in the left-hand truck lane as they are not classified as emergency vehicles.
“The RFBAQ offered to bring up volunteer firefighters from NSW or Victoria, or any other State or Territory, as these volunteer firefighters in Queensland are classified as Fire Officers but a Queensland volunteer firefighter in Queensland is not.
“The QFES attempted to solve this issue by giving a note to go in the glovebox of each truck to show to police if requested.”
AgForce gave another example:
“The rural fire engine is not classed as an emergency vehicle because a Rural Fire Brigade volunteer is not an emergency officer – preventing it from parking next to a fire hydrant.”
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said it was time to stop treating rural firefighters like second-class citizens.
“Almost all of our members are impacted by fire management and have relationships with rural fire brigades,” he said.
“It’s not just that these men and women put themselves in the line of fire.
“It’s that these firies are almost all volunteers, battling blazes for sheer love of their local community.
“Australia’s unprecedented bushfires of 2020 have cemented its rural firefighters at the heart of the nation’s identity – which is something no elected politician would be wise to ignore.
“And yet the dismantling of the Rural Fire Brigades has been nothing short of appalling, leading to recent fire events being perversely hampered by declining volunteers and lack of support.
“The RFS only receives about 5 per cent of the total $800 million QFES budget.
“How can the 30,000 brigade members who defend 93 per cent of Queensland feel valued by an organisation which clearly does not value them?
“For healthy landscapes AgForce members and the wider rural community need to be able to use fire proactively – therefore it is imperative that Queensland has a well supported Rural Fire Brigade volunteer network.
“With an independent review now under way, we intend to do all we can to support the RFBAQ in its push for greater protection.”
- Download: The RFBAQ submission (571kb PDF)