Firefighters backburn along Sleipners Road to contain a large bushfire in New Zealand Gully East of Mount Archer.
Firefighters backburn along Sleipners Road to contain a large bushfire in New Zealand Gully East of Mount Archer. Chris Ison

Fire heroes over the coals

HEROIC firefighters, who spent days on the front-line of the battle to protect lives and property in Mount Archer National Park last week, could be disciplined tomorrow for refusing to drive five hours to tackle a grassfire.

The Australian Workers' Union yesterday vowed to defend the four Byfield rangers who have been summoned to a hearing in Rockhampton to justify their decision not to travel to Springsure as requested.

Union organiser Peter Ward said all right-thinking people would be disgusted if the Queensland Parks and Wildlife officers were hauled over the coals, especially those in Rockhampton.

“These officers have been fighting fires, protecting the environment, life and property in the Rockhampton region in recent days. To now be asked by nine-to-five bureaucrats in air-conditioned offices to defend their actions is a disgrace,” said Mr Ward.

He said if the men were disciplined there would be a public outcry and a state-wide series of protests.

The union had called on the Department of Environment and Resource Management to drop what he called a witch-hunt.

All the men, he said, had refused the request to drive to Springsure - which would have taken about five hours - because they had genuine family commitments.

They had all worked normal shifts and were called at home to scramble to the emergency call.

But the department chief denied yesterday that there was any kind of a witch-hunt against the men.

John Bradley, DERM's director-general, confirmed there would be a meeting with the Byfield rangers tomorrow.

“This is not a disciplinary action, but a means of gathering factual information so that the matters which have arisen can be properly assessed,” he said.

“Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers in Central Queensland have done an outstanding job fighting wild fires in the Mt Archer National Park which threatened Rockhampton and its surrounding rural residential community, and I have nothing but the highest praise for their extraordinary efforts. These wildfires were among the worst ever experienced in the region.”

Mr Ward said the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service had a haphazard system of responding to fires. It refused to pay rangers to be on call and job-ready when they were off duty and relied on its staff to always say yes to an emergency call, no matter what the circumstances.

“For one thing it is ridiculous to expect people to be in any fit state to enter a hazardous situation and make life or death decisions after a five- hour drive. These rangers appear to be scapegoats for chronic under-resourcing of the parks and wildlife service,” he said.

“These officers deserve praise, not a witch-hunt and it's not just the union that is furious, it's the general public too.”

He said the union wanted to see proper management systems in place during the bushfire season.

“No one can predict when a fire will start, but sooner or later this haphazard money-saving system will have tragic consequences.”

The Morning Bulletin understands union representatives will accompany the four unnamed rangers when they attend interviews in Rockhampton tomorrow.

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