Flames roar behind a firefighter during backburning in the Africander Avenue area of Norman Gardens.
Flames roar behind a firefighter during backburning in the Africander Avenue area of Norman Gardens. Megan Lewis

Rural fire heroes face shutdown

AS volunteer firefighters continue to battle the state's worst ever bushfires, there are fears one of the region's rural brigades could face closure after officials refused its submission for a $60 fire levy.

The Keppel Sands Rural Fire Brigade has had no funding this financial year and is “surviving on chook raffles” while its heroic members lay their lives on the line to protect property.

Cr Brett Svendsen called yesterday for the bureaucrats who rejected the levy application - after it had been agreed by the Keppel Sands community - to be kicked out.

In a scathing attack Cr Svendsen, who is a serving member of the brigade, said he was outraged and disgusted that the team of volunteers had been treated with contempt.

“This could close our brigade down. So far this financial year we have spent at least $10,000 from savings, fighting fires pretty much non-stop for two months.

The brigade had played its part in tackling destructive blazes at Coowonga, Mount Morgan and Mount Archer, he said.

“It's the worst bushfire season on record and yet the Keppel Sands brigade has been told it can survive for a year on its savings. Morale is extremely low.

“As far as I can see we did everything by the book. We advertised the public meeting at which the levy was agreed and submitted an application for this year's levy as we always do.”

Cr Svendsen said the brigade had a long-term aim of building a new shed for its equipment and had built up savings to pay for it. Those savings were now being used to pay for the fuel and equipment required for day-to-day firefighting.

“At this rate we will have no money left in a matter of months.”

Official documents show the levy applications for Bondoola, Cooberrie and Woodbury brigades were also rejected.

Inspector Laurie Colgrave, the area director of Rural Operations for Rockhampton, said there was no way the Keppel Sands brigade would be allowed to fold because of a shortage of funding.

“Any brigade that is caught out financially can be helped,” he said. “The brigade definitely has enough cash to keep going.”

But he said he could not approve the $60 levy because the brigade had produced no firm proposals for a new shed to justify raising more money.

“We were happy to help the brigade to frame a proper proposal, but without one it would be irresponsible to place a further burden on local ratepayers.”

He said it might be possible to fix the existing shed to an acceptable standard.

At the end of June the brigade had $28,000 in the bank and estimated annual running costs of $7000, he said.

Late yesterday a Queensland Fire and Rescue spokesperson said a small number of rural brigades in the Rockhampton area did not meet the deadline by which they had to provide a budget to the Rockhampton Rural Operations area director.

They said this was crucial for the Rockhampton Regional Council to collect a levy and resulted in these brigades not receiving funding through the local government levy.



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