Fire fighters association lashes review into Tathra bushfire response

TRAGIC BLAZE: The bushfire in Tathra on March 18 destroyed 1250 hectares of land, 65 homes and 70 caravans or cabins. Picture: Suzie Duffy
TRAGIC BLAZE: The bushfire in Tathra on March 18 destroyed 1250 hectares of land, 65 homes and 70 caravans or cabins. Picture: Suzie Duffy

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An independent firefighter organisation has criticised aspects of a state government-initiated review on the response to the Tathra bushfire.

Earlier this month, the review by former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said call and dispatch processes for the blaze that swept through Tathra and its district on March 18 were “flawed and in need of urgent reform”, and the state’s two fire services the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Fire and Rescue NSW were plagued by “animosity and mistrust”.

In a media release from last week, NSW Volunteer Fire Fighters Association (VFFA) president Mick Holton said the terms of reference in the review did not address the “root causes” of the bushfire to provide the best possible service delivery to the community of NSW.

He also said the way both commissioners allowed middle management to take the blame for the issues raised in the review was “nothing short of treachery”.

“Any decent leader would accept blame, then work towards changing cultural issues that exist,” he said. 

Speaking to Bega District News on Monday, Mr Holton agreed there were “isolated pockets of that turf war on the ground”, but thought it was inappropriate for the commissioners to “divide” middle management and blame them for the situation. 

“It’s wrong to claim all firefighters get on well. But generally speaking most firefighters on the ground, regardless of what badge they have on their shoulder, are there for the right reasons and want to get the job done,” Mr Holton said.

One recommendation from the Keelty review was to establish a more centralised, fully integrated single call-and-dispatch centre for all state emergency services. 

In his media release, Mr Holton said the VFFA supported a civilianised call and dispatch centre, but was concerned if it were to be linked to a possible future move of the RFS communications centre this location would be “too close to RFS influence and will only serve to exacerbate the turf war issues”.

Also, Mr Holton said the review utilised “dangerous false concepts” made from not knowing the land and both fire services would benefit from consulting with Indigenous Australian land management experts.

The RFS and Fire and Rescue were contacted for a response to Mr Holton’s claims, replying with a joint statement that read in full:

“A joint statement from the Commissioners of Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) earlier this month welcomed the release of the independent report of the Bega Valley fires and all 12 recommendations will be referred to the Emergency Services Board of Commissioners to progress and implement.”

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