The most debated clause in the firefighters’ enterprise agreement will save lives and increase firefighting efforts in Ballarat, a submission to an inquiry states.
Paid and volunteer Ballarat City Firefighters have told a parliamentary inquiry seven paid firefighters need to be deployed to any fire in the station’s area, highlighting three potentially fatal cases where volunteers failed to or were slow to respond in their primary regions.
The submissions are in response to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed laws that would change the Fair Work Act to give volunteers the power to make submissions during negotiations between paid staff and volunteers. The move has been slammed by police, nurses and paramedics warning it would affect the level of service provided by all emergency workers to the community. The volunteers’ association has argued the enterprise agreement would undermine their role.
In June last year Ballarat City said the volunteer-only Wendouree Brigade failed to respond to a house fire in its primary response area meaning only four paid staff were at the scene. Wendouree was re-paged six minutes later and one volunteer arrived in his own car. Staff claim all lives were at risk
In another example, 11 minutes after the first call Buninyong Fire Brigade was the first vehicle at the scene of a house fire where people were trapped. The three firefighters could not enter the house or operate the pumper because they were not trained. Ballarat City arrived with one pumper after 13 minutes of code one driving and were able to rescue the trapped people. Firefighters said the example “highlighted (that) lack of certainty …. can cause unnecessary risk to the community”.
Ballarat union representative Brenton Smith said the submission was made to show the seven on the fire ground clause, only applicable to staffed areas, was created to improve safety for all firefighters and the community. At least one local brigade made a submission yet to be published. Some submissions called the union “downright discriminatory”. Ballarat volunteers were contacted for comment.