It's time to pay our rural firefighters
IT’S time to get serious about paying our rural firefighters.
These volunteer brigades, who have sacrificed so much to save so many Central Queensland properties from disaster in the last four weeks, get by year after year thanks to the amazing dedication of members providing their services for free.
But this year’s Rockhampton district bushfire emergency marathon has exposed the system yet again as being flawed and unfair.
Instead of the Government accepting this amazing volunteer service as a massive cost saving, these dedicated people should be paid in a similar fashion to the army reserves.
I wonder how many army reserve volunteers we would have if they were expected to give up their time for nuts?
These rural firefighters put their hand up and risk personal safety time and time again because they feel a sense of duty to protect their loved ones, their neighbours and the wider community.
It is asking a lot of someone to leave their work and family commitments to fight fires for a few days, but when they do it for four weeks for nothing but a community’s gratitude, something has to give.
As well as the strain on themselves and their family, their place of work must suffer too, especially when they are self-employed.
Adding to the strain is the fact that Queensland is the only state which doesn’t fully fund the operating expenses of rural brigades, which means these volunteers also have to raise money as well as fight fires.
Dick Irwin, CEO of Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland, has been pushing for a system similar to the army reserves that would pay rural firefighters not to fight fires but to train.
“It would be small acknowledgement by government, of the skills necessary for those volunteers who are expected to deal with these often dangerous situations,’’ he said.
He said such a scheme had been introduced in New Zealand.
Dick told me yesterday the bare minimum of required training for a rural firefighter at $30 an hour would be between $5000 and $6000 a year for one volunteer.
That would be an annual cost of about $200 million to fund the RFBA’s 36,000 volunteers.
That is cheap for what they do for us.
Rural fire brigades are an essential community service and should be funded accordingly.