Fireys impeded by ‘top brass’, says Caves locals
ARGUING credentials with a police officer in the face of a fire storm isn't the best use of a firey's time and training.
That was the strongest message forthcoming from a community meeting held at the Caves on Wednesday night.
Local fire fighters met with representatives of the Queensland Fire Service and Livingstone Shire Council to debrief about the recent Cobraball fires.
Of the 14 talking points on the informal agenda, about 60 people spent more than an hour talking about communications.
Local fireys, some of whom have served for forty years, called for authorities to recognise the rural brigades' "local knowledge and practices which have always worked well".
They said there were times the use of fire bombers, initiated by police, impeded local fireys from building fire breaks on the ground.
"It doesn't matter how expensive the planes, they won't put out a fire," one local said.
"Flat country like this is prone to fire underground which is going to flare up the next day."
He described the frustration for fireys on the ground, trying to "square off" or contain one area of fire, to be told they couldn't proceed when the planes came in during the late afternoon.
"We couldn't say, "We love what you're doing but stop now"," he said.
"Why don't we have direct access to the pilots on a normal radio channel?"
A QFS representative responded that operations staff could only handle talking to about five appliances at a time, and communications were handed up and down the chain of command.
But volunteers maintained their expertise was being lost along the chain.
"It was exactly the same this time last year at The Caves," said one person.
"We were waiting for the directive to burn but, before it came, the fire was in the trees practically over the top of the grader.
"We had to keep going but then the police came and wanted to drag people away in handcuffs."
Locals repeatedly alleged they were threatened with arrest.
Even the Livingstone Mayor, Bill Ludwig, admitted to "having a dummy spit" when police tried to stop him and his son - who had worked a 27-hour shift fighting fires - from getting back to the fires with new supplies.
"This was new ground; the police never had to do that before, stop locals from doing what they thought was best," he said.
However, another local was not so forgiving.
"Police are trying to charge people with arson when they're just trying to help; you have no idea how mad that makes people on the ground," he said.
One source of confusion, it seems, is that many volunteer fire fighters weren't easily identifiable as such.
Many were locals who, having driven out to check on their neighbours, made "decisions on the run with no time to talk".
One experienced volunteer described seeing a "window of opportunity" to help his neighbour bulldoze a fire break, before he could make radio contact with his brigade supervisor.
"We don't have the luxury of coming in and signing on sometimes," he said.
"We use our own assets and our own instincts."
There were reports too that local firms chose to mobilise earthmoving equipment without permission.
They are being credited among the heroes who managed to save about 300 homes with no loss of human life.
But if the lack of communications between rural fire fighters and the "top brass" doesn't improve, fireys warn, there won't be anyone willing to fight on the ground and the aircraft will have to go it alone.
"No major decision should be made from a swivel chair," one gentleman piped up.
The meeting concluded with a motion for the State Government to investigate whether the rural brigades' management plans were taken into consideration when it came to tackling the Cobraball fires.