Rural firefighter explains the need for more support
FIREFIGHTING volunteers, like most people, don't like to talk about financial hardship but Nick Murphy knows many rural firefighters who do it tough after taking time off from work to fight protracted bushfires.
Speaking on behalf of the volunteers in Bondoola Rural Fire Brigade, first officer Mr Murphy expressed hope that different levels of government could come together to develop a policy for leave or a way to compensate volunteers left out of pocket by firefighting.
"Two weeks on a fire ground with no income hurts a lot of people. We all know the struggle," he said.
"We've just taken it on the chin because that's what we do."
Since the campaign was launched to provide better support for volunteers, Mr Murphy said brigade members had started saying "yeah, it would be nice".
"I'd like to see it but whether it happens or not is a different story. You've got to have something," he said.
"It's getting harder and harder to get volunteer firefighters. We as a brigade personally struggle getting new members.
"My opinion we're not going to be paid because we are volunteers but some sort of support would be nice for a better frame of mind and it might be an incentive to get more people in to volunteer."
At the age of 30, Mr Murphy has spent almost half his life fighting fires.
For his day job, he works as an operator for family-owned earthmoving business Pistol Gap Quarry and Construction, founded over 30 years by his father Ray, who is Bondoola's Fire Warden.
Judging by the poor wet season, they knew it was going to be a bad fire season, a situation he didn't expect to change without decent rain.
Already this fire season they've battled the major Cobraball fire, a few forestry fires at Byfield, the Bungundarra fire at Mount Ray Rd (six weeks before Cobraball), Farnborough fire, and the major Mount Archer fire.
Due to work and financial constraints, and with few firefighting volunteers, the brigade was unable to respond to the frequent requests to fight fires elsewhere.
"We can't afford it. Because we're volunteers, you've got to look at it financially whether it's advisable or not," Mr Murphy said.
"Personally, I couldn't do it, having a young family. I'm lucky enough that my employer chooses to pay sick leave, but sometimes I don't have any up so I have to take on chin.
"Financially we all get hit somehow and we're just probably lucky we don't have these big fires so often."
He welcomed a national discussion on ways firefighting volunteers could be compensated and offered suggestions.
"An incentive or a support would be nice," he said.
"Some businesses might pay sick leave but that's up to them but casual workers, they're not going to get any of that sort of stuff so they actually are taking it on the chin.
"I think if some sort of supplement was made, everyone would be like 'we're getting a bit of money, let's get into it, we're all buggered, let's keep going'.
Mr Murphy liked the idea of the government providing a tax break for firefighter who could prove how many weeks they were on the fireground.
He also thought there was merit to the government compensating employers similar to the way it does Army Reservists.
Something also needed to be done to help those who were self-employed, he said.
"I do know of firefighters that do get put behind in their workload. A lot of them are company owners, because most of my firefighters own their own companies. Their workload then doubles while they are away.
"We as a business donate our machinery to firefighting, so there is loss of income for us as a business but we are happy to donate it because we are part of rural community and without machinery, fires get harder and harder to control."