WA’s firefighters are battling dud radios, a lack of basic equipment and budget cuts, despite a succession of devastating bushfires in the past three years, a parliamentary committee has concluded.
Toodyay in 2009, the Perth Hills in 2010 and Margaret River last year suffered huge property losses after devastating fires swept through an increasingly dry and dangerous WA landscape.
And with one volunteer firefighter already having been killed in a fire in Albany last month, committee chairman Tony O’Gorman said despite claims of better preparedness, there were still major flaws in the State’s firefighting capability.
“The Government has given extra money to the department (of Fire and Emergency Services) but have then taken a whole heap of that money back,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“We think that actually does affect frontline services.”
Ahead of what is tipped to be another nightmare bushfire season in 2012, the State Government has admitted a combination of a heavy fuel load, a dry winter and unhelpful weather threatening could lead to more major bushfires.
The committee tasked with investigating WA’S fire readiness concluded firefighters were being exposed to danger because of a reliance on ancient UHF radios.
One firefighter gave evidence that he now carried five different radios in his cab to talk to different people, and digital radios sometimes failed as soon as pumps left suburban fire stations.
“The WA Emergency Radio Network (WAERN) seems to have significantly degraded performance in the bushfire environment,” a committee statement said.
“Incredibly ... its performance is affected by both smoke and water vapour, and witnesses (said) they revert to using their older UHF radios.
“Digital upgrades had been deferred due to budgetary constraints.”
The committee also concluded volunteer firefighters were still waiting for more training and basic equipment, including fire blankets.
“Another key area not yet addressed by DFES since last year’s bushfire season are the needs of bushfire volunteers, both in training courses and the provision of fire blankets to protect firefighters from burnovers,” it said.
The committee called on Minister for Emergency Services Troy Buswell to institute a database of potential hotspots around the State by the 2013-14 bushfire season and to ensure future post-fire analyses were out within eight weeks of the event.
The committee said a solid policy was needed for how victims of future major natural disasters, such as bushfires, would be compensated.
It called for a review of the ability of that State’s insurers to assess losses more quickly.
“The evidence from witnesses highlighted that there has been ad-hoc assistance provided by the Government for victims of different bushfires over the past three years,” the committee said.
“The amount of compensation offered bears little resemblance to the cost of replacing property lost to fire.”