TOUGH JOB: There are calls to financially support Rural Fire Service firefighter volunteers who sometimes spend weeks fighting bushfires like this massive blaze which burnt along Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball in November. Picture: Anthony Carter
TOUGH JOB: There are calls to financially support Rural Fire Service firefighter volunteers who sometimes spend weeks fighting bushfires like this massive blaze which burnt along Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball in November. Picture: Anthony Carter

CQ Rural Firey says volunteers are struggling to get by

GOING cap in hand to employers, pleading for time off or to be paid while they've been away fighting bushfires is a stressful experience that Rural Firefighters like Adrian Anderson know all too well.

According to Mr Anderson, volunteer firefighters were usually okay if they had to go away for a day or two to fight a nearby fire but they quickly wore out their welcome with employers when asking for leave to fight blazes across the state or the country, sometimes for a weeks at a time.

Addressing the financial burden carried by both the employers and volunteer firefighting employees lays at the heart of The Morning Bulletin's 'Fair go for our Fireys' campaign.

In addition to working for the past decade as a diesel fitter for Boral Asphalt Rockhampton, Mr Anderson, 27, has volunteered as the first officer at Nankin Rural Fire Brigade for the past 11 years.

While the fire season started in September, his brigade has fought fires throughout the year, both locally or around the state.

"They're asking for deployment crews all the time to go everywhere across Queensland," Mr Anderson said.

"Our brigade has participated in a few like Tewantin (Sunshine Coast) and Colosseum (Miriam Vale) over the past couple of months as well as the Barmaryee (Cobraball) fire and Mount Archer fires.

"I haven't been deployed, I couldn't because of work commitments."

READ: Our Fair go for our Fireys campaign is expanding

Aerial photos of Cobraball fire aftermath.
Aerial photos of Cobraball fire aftermath.

He said a lot Rural Firefighters struggled to get the time off work or the employer won't pay.

While he said most people were fine with this situation for smaller fires, which took a couple of days to extinguish, it was the large incidents taking weeks to overcome that "really affected people".

"They've got to start taking their own annual leave which eats into your own family time you've accumulated over the time of working to spend time with your family," he said.

"You've got to use your annual leave to save the country."

One way many local firefighters worked around the situation was to volunteer to do the night shift and play their part before returning to work their day jobs.

Burning the candle from both ends takes a toll, not only on volunteer's time, but their bank balances too.

FIRE BATTLE: The Caves Rural Fire Service firefighter Anthony Carter shared these photos of the blaze burning at Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball.
FIRE BATTLE: The Caves Rural Fire Service firefighter Anthony Carter shared these photos of the blaze burning at Old Byfield Rd, Cobraball.

"People have mortgages and families to feed and lives to live outside of being a volunteer," he said.

"It's stressful, especially when we know work's in a busy time and especially when you're asking for compensation at the end of it, whether you're not going to be there for one or two days and expect some pay and not be there.

"Or you've got to take the time off and have no pay and you're short at the end of the week."

Mr Anderson said his company was "pretty lenient" when it came to giving time off or paying for time away but "any more than one to two days off, they want you back at work".

"It just depends on how they are feeling on the day. Sometimes it's just leave with no pay, if I really need to or want to go," he said.

"If I talk to them and say 'oh look can you at least pay me two days this week because I've been away on a fire', they do pay it but you don't want to go pushing the friendship."

While his company could see the need in supporting firefighting efforts, they also need him as a worker and struggle to afford to carry the cost of paying for a worker who wasn't there.

Aerial photos of Cobraball fire aftermath.
Aerial photos of Cobraball fire aftermath.

"That's what you find with most workplaces, they are all pretty much the same in that way - they don't like to but then again, sometimes the goodness comes out for a little bit and they say 'righto fair enough, we'll pay you'," he said.

"There are a few other people in the brigade who run the same way. Sometimes the ­employer is happy for them to go. I guess it all depends on the workload as well."

Another member of Mr Anderson's brigade struggled to find a suitable arrangement with his employer at Stanwell.

"He would get time off if it was close to Stanwell but other than that, he struggled to get time off and also get pay," he said.

Generally speaking, he believed that every brigade was suffering from a degree of financial stress.

"By talking to them on jobs and stuff, I'd say nearly every brigade and most volunteers are all in the same boat. It's spread through every brigade," he said.

There were a number of ideas that Mr Anderson supported with regards to improving the system to support Rural Firefighters.

If QFES was able to issue a certificate similar to a doctor's certificate to volunteers for major incidents, he believed employers would be more likely to support leave and pay applications.

He believed tax breaks for volunteers could help them to recoup their financial losses.

Another arrangement he said the government should look at would be to adopt the employer reimbursement like what is applied for Army Reserve members or to develop another category of leave.

With fire seasons growing longer and more intense, Mr Anderson believed it was essential that the governments put their heads together to develop a solution to ensure that the volunteer firefighting workforce continued to grow to deal with the increasing fire threat.



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