Rural firefighter Leith Stirling with Toogoom’s 14-year-old canter fire truck which won’t be replaced for six years and services a fast-growing area, carrying only 1400 litres of water.
Rural firefighter Leith Stirling with Toogoom’s 14-year-old canter fire truck which won’t be replaced for six years and services a fast-growing area, carrying only 1400 litres of water. Karleila Thomsen

Firies ask for rural levy

THE Fraser Coast’s volunteer firefighters are ready to tackle any emergency that comes their way. Unfortunately for local residents, they say, their equipment is not.

An investigation by the Fraser Coast Chronicle has backed the firefighters’ case.

Our rural firies say they are “the pauper pack of rural fire brigades in Australia” and they’re asking the State Government to start appreciating them by showing them “much-needed resources and money”.

“Overall our rural fire service is between 10 to 15 years behind the southern states,” Hervey Bay Rural Fire Brigades group officer Don Duffus said yesterday.

“Our trucks are outdated, mostly single cab. In other states trucks are given to brigades at no cost. Brigades are also equipped with a fuel card funded by government. They get repairs, servicing and breakdowns at no cost to them.”

This is identical to what our urban firies get here.

“Rural fire brigades cannot own land and vehicles because they’re not incorporated,” Yengarie founding brigade officer Garry Schubert said.

“Yet in spite of years of raising money to start up 25 years ago and then keep the brigade going, we have the responsibility to maintain our assets, including our shed and appliances.

“We are also used to fight fires in urban fire brigade areas yet are not paid for that or compensated.”

In 1990 the Qld Fire and Rescue and Rural Fire Service became one organisation and the state took over all the rurals’ assets.

From Tiaro to Woodgate there are some 90 rural brigades and across the Fraser Coast and South Burnett 2000 volunteers protect us from loss of life and property.

The new Fraser Coast Council started levying ratepayers at $25 per property and that money is divvied up among rural brigades.

Yesterday our rural firies asked Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts to consider instructing councils across the state to levy ratepayers.

“Hervey Bay has had a levy imposed for 12 years but the other three old shires didn’t have the benefit of a levy,” Mr Duffus said. In the Hervey Bay area the average brigade gets around $20,000 yearly, yet fuel cost hikes “burnt” many brigades in recent times in an exceptionally busy year.

Takura must run for the next 12 months on $11,000 because the brigade had to dip into its emergency funds to cover the hike in fuel costs and total running costs.

“And there are other brigades in the district facing the same problem,” Mr Duffus said.

Firies also ask why their trucks cannot be replaced except after 20 years.

This is excluding brigades from moving from single cab to much-needed dual cabs, where they could put 10 fighters on the ground rather than five.

“Toogoom, where the population has expanded significantly, still has one light attack and one medium truck, which means only five firefighters go out to a job. The two trucks can only carry 1600 litres of water between them.

"Dress uniforms are only supplied to the first and training officers. When our rural firies went to NSW recently to fight fires the media described them as being “dressed like Brown’s cows”.

Dundowran first officer Dave Kohler said his brigade attended the highest number of incidents ever last year – 75.

Urban brigades call on rural firies where there are no hydrants because while their trucks carry only 1500 litres, rurals hold up to 2000 litres.

“Generally we’re equipped adequately to perform the service in the area and our brigades have performed good service. In the 15 years I’ve been here we haven’t lost a residence to a bushfire,” said Warren Edwards, area director Qld Fire and Rescue rural operations Maryborough.

Mr Duffus said the government needed to recognise all nine volunteer organisations which made up the state’s department of emergency services.

“They – and that includes rural fire brigades – save this state millions and they get neither just recognition in government awards or financial support.”

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