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Rural, urban firefighters face off over 'lack of respect'

04 Nov, 2009 05:39 AM
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A standoff between Queensland firefighters has been blamed on a lack of respect shown by urban "red truck" officers to their rural volunteer counterparts.

The head of Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland (RFBAQ) claims an escalating power struggle which has erupted between crews at Marburg, west of Ipswich, is reflective of a statewide predicament.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts will next week meet with rural firefighters from the Marburg volunteer brigade, one of 1534 in the state, who are furious at urban officers for riding roughshod over their authority at bushfire scenes.

RFBAQ chief executive officer Dick Irwin said rural brigade officers had more extensive knowledge of battling vegetation-based, non-structural fires and should assume seniority in such scenarios over their urban colleagues.

"There is a lack of respect on behalf of some, not all, urban personnel towards the rural volunteers. It's not in every area of the state but it is happening in varying areas," Mr Irwin said.

"They're coming into the rural areas and taking over ... because they are in uniform the volunteers just sort of back away.

"They're not the experts in bushfire fighting. Rural [firefighters] are the experts in that field and should be calling the shots.

"We give [urban crews] their due respect when we are involved in the incidents that they're experts in - structural fires and road rescues for instance."

Queensland firefighters have spent the past month battling about 4000 fires, the most serious of which threatened homes in Central Queensland.

Fire bans remain in place over much of the east coast, though they have been lifted in local government areas south of Gympie.

Mr Irwin, whose association counts more than 36,000 volunteers as members, said ill feeling between divisions was "not good for morale" as firefighters moved further into a daunting bushfire season.

"We're supposed to be working for the one jersey. It's just one person getting a swollen head and saying 'I'm in charge'," he said.

"It's really important that when there is an incident that the most appropriate person is in charge."

Operational control of incidents in which different divisions are involved is determined by the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Operations Doctrine, which is considered "the bible" for the state's firefighters.

The latest version, which came into effect on September 1, dictates that the senior officer of an urban or rural fire crew must assume control of an urban and rural incident respectively "unless that authority has been delegated to another person who can appropriately manage the incident".

Ewan Cayzer, the QFRS regional manager for south-east Queensland rural operations, yesterday said the "most appropriate person should be in charge" of any incident.

If the incident is then deemed to have escalated, a policy called the Greater Alarm Response System takes effect and a more senior and experienced officer, either urban or rural, can be appointed to take charge, he said.

"Clearly the rural fire service is kitted out in a certain way, predominantly to look after vegetation fires," he said.

"The urbans are more equipped to respond to incidents like structural fires and motor vehicle accidents. But there are some very capable people in both divisions that could assume the role of incident controller at a particular incident."

Mr Cayzer acknowledged that rural firefighter unrest was a concern to the QFRS but said the government body had received no direct complaints from the Rural Fire Brigades Association.

"It's certainly an issue, it's a concern for us. If any of our members are dissatisfied it's something we need to address," he said.

"But at this point there has been no approach to the organisation to explain any of their concerns."

Mr Roberts confirmed he would meet with a delegation from the Marburg rural brigade next week.

"I do not underestimate the important role our rural fire volunteers play in responding to fire emergencies," he said.

"I am concerned that some rural brigades have issues with their urban brigade counterparts. I would like to see any such issues overcome as soon as possible."

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READER COMMENTS

Ian Mott
5/11/2009 9:43:43 AM, on Queensland Country Life

Whats new? Metrocentrics in all walks of life have the same attitude. They spend so much time with their heads up each others backsides that they lose all sight of daylight. But the real problem is that they never stay around long enough to be confronted with the consequences of their ignorance and unreliability. And the only way to fix it is to put a new state boundary between the two camps and leave the city folk to become legends in their own lunchtime.

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Sorry Chops, but the reality is already here, we have been relegated to a nation of price takers
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Rob an underpinning principle of a spot market that needs to be embedded is that the producers