Rural Firies resisting Blue Card directive

Blue Card uptake less than 60pc among Rural Fire Brigade members

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Queensland's Rural Fire Service could lose 41 per cent of its volunteers by the end of the month, if members don't complete mandatory Blue Card registration.

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Queensland's Rural Fire Service could lose 41 per cent of its volunteers by the end of the month, if members don't complete mandatory Blue Card registration.

Just over 8000 people have failed to apply ahead of the March 31 deadline.

The Far Northern region is where volunteer fire fighters have complied the least, followed by central and south western parts of the state.

Speaking about the new requirement last year, Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said the government had received legal advice that Blue Card screening should be introduced for all staff and volunteers serving as firefighters or rescuers.

This was reportedly because their duties included reducing danger to members of the public, which had legal overlap with the definition of health service providers in the Working With Children Act.

Queensland is the only state that requires all operational firefighters to have a Blue Card or its equivalent.

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The Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland criticised the requirement - part of the government's No Card, No Start policy - and sought the same exemption that applies for ambulance officers, to no avail.

The December cutoff date was extended to March 31 but Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux said many people were voting with their feet, which could see most brigades in the north of the state "wiped out".

Queensland Fire and Emergency Service data on the application rates for Blue Cards.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Service data on the application rates for Blue Cards.

"The first correspondence they received was 'do it or you're sacked'," he said. "No wonder they pushed back."

He said the request was also highlighting small past misdemeanours among members in small towns, who were being shamed after doing their time and were now serving their community.

"It's scaring people off," he said.

"Some aren't applying until they get an apology, others see it as a way of poking Brisbane in the eye, and others read the legal advice and said, we don't have to, it's just best practice to have a card, not the law."

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RFBAQ has put what it says is a workable solution to the stand-off on the table, that the Blue Card requirements apply only to first officers of truck brigades, crew leaders, volunteer community educators, and anyone else that wants it, for free, then over a period of not less than 18 months, that Blue Card and a wider variety of support training, including first aid training, be made available across the state.

"We cover 93 per cent of Queensland - George Street is only 14km away from the nearest brigade, at Brookfield - it's natural that we'd have carriage over training for a lot of rural organisations," Mr Choveaux said.

At the same time, he envisaged local registered training organisations could be reaching out to sports clubs, bank staff and local government staff that needed training, and familiarising them with rural brigade options.

"We'd do it in a way that supports local communities," Mr Choveaux said. "I've spoke to deputy commissioner Mike Wassing who is supportive of the concept."

Asked whether RFBAQ was opposed to volunteer members needing Blue Cards on principle, Mr Choveaux that wasn't the case.

"We've always said, it was a resolution at a general meeting - let's support Blue Cards for those that want it, and support those who don't," Mr Choveaux said. "If a first officer says, I don't want one, they can be a second officer under the direction of someone who does.

"This just wasn't a rational approach by Fire Services, that everyone was a health care provider - they're not."

Some have taken to social media to question RFBAQ's hardline stance, saying the organisation was overcooking the issue and asking what the damage would be to members for obtaining a Blue Card.

Others described it as overly bureaucratic and a nonsense proposal, given that police and paramedics were exempt.

Mr Choveaux said that at the end of the coronavirus crisis, there would not be a lot of money left in government tills.

"They need to support the people putting their hands up to volunteer," he said.

RFBAQ president Ian Pike said a decrease in the number of volunteers meant those left in brigades would be spread more thinly in fire emergencies.

"There are very high fuel loadings beginning to grow from the rain. If that carries over to summer-," he said.

The state government was contacted for comment.

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