Rural Fire Service Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli said a ruling that volunteers must apply for blue cards was
Rural Fire Service Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli said a ruling that volunteers must apply for blue cards was "an insult to me and every member of my brigade". Photo: Zizi Averill

We're 'not paedophiles': Rural fireys inflamed by new rules

LIFELONG rural firefighters have threatened to hang up their yellow jackets in protest over an order they say accuses them of being paedophiles.

After more than four decades of shielding his community, Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli said a ruling that Rural Fire Service members apply for blue cards, or working with children checks, was "an insult to me and every member of my brigade".

"What are they trying to tell us - we're all paedophiles?" Mr Giumelli asked.

"We are all volunteers. We give up our time and lives to protect our community".

"I'm passionate about the brigade and the job and I will not be treated like a criminal".

The 62-year-old father and grandfather said he would refuse to apply for a blue card - a move he said would cost him his rank as first officer.

 

Rural Fire Service Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli said a ruling that volunteers must apply for blue cards was
Rural Fire Service Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli said a ruling that volunteers must apply for blue cards was "an insult to me and every member of my brigade". Photo: Zizi Averill

Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland Mackay area representative Stephen Smith, who represents volunteers in the region, said he was also considering refusing to apply.

"I haven't done it - and I'm not sure if I will," Mr Smith said.

"Another piece of plastic in my wallet won't worry me, but it's the principle of how they've done it"

As the Seaforth District Rural Fire brigade first officer, Mr Smith said he had been fighting fires "since I've been a young fella".

"Now I have to prove I'm not a paedophile."

"It's a kick in the guts".

But Queensland Fire and Emergency Services claims it has no choice in the matter.

A QFES spokesman said all staff and volunteers - excluding Primary Producer Brigades and Fire Wardens - were required to hold blue cards as part of the requirements of the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000.

An internal QFES email, written by Acting Commissioner Mike Wassing, stressed the blue cards were not an attack on the rural brigades.

"QFES is not questioning your character by asking you to apply for a blue card," Mr Wassing wrote.

"I must emphasise that QFES is not sacking anyone. The requirements for your ongoing involvement, as a staff member or volunteer, have changed and it is up to you to determine if you want to continue serving your local communities."

The QFES spokesman said any volunteer who refused to apply for a blue card would not be able to continue their work, which may bring them in contact with children.

Mr Wassing said he would meet with volunteer representative groups and unions to discuss the conflict over the blue cards. Yesterday he was expected to meet with RFBAQ president Ian Pike.

Mr Smith said the mandatory checks would be an operational burden during a fire.

"If I'm an incident controller on a fire it's going to limit who I can send out," he said.

The battle over blue cards represented a culture clash between the rural brigades' volunteer system and QFES's 'command and control' structure, Mr Smith said.

"They're pushing and shoving and telling us to stand in line like tin soldiers.

"This is a thin edge of the wedge," he warned.

The insult to the brigades would result in membership losses, leaving communities exposed, Mr Smith said.

"We have 33,000 volunteers in Queensland. And the RFS looks after 93 per cent of Queensland area-wise"

The QFES spokesman said of about 2300 RFS volunteers in the Mackay region, 15 per cent of those required to hold a blue card had applied for one.



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