Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Victorian firefighters have issued an urgent appeal for an upgrade to their aging fleet of trucks and equipment, warning that lives are at risk as the state faces the worst fire conditions seen since the devasting 2019-2020 bushfires.
United Firefighters Union Victorian Branch Secretary Peter Marshall last night wrote to Premier Jacinta Allan and Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes demanding immediate action to address the catastrophic state of firefighting resources across the state, which pose “untold risk to the community and firefighters”.
The warning came as the Country Fire Authority yesterday issued a total fire ban along with “catastrophic” and “extreme” fire danger warnings across parts of Victoria for Tuesday, including the Wimmera in the west, the Mallee, Northern Country, and Central districts.
Mr Marshall said the late fire season combined with Victoria’s aging and depleted fleet of fire trucks was a recipe for disaster and placed the Emergency Services Minister on notice that the Union would commence legal action in the event of any injury, loss of life or damage to property as a result of the extreme weather conditions that have been forecast.
“The situation is so catastrophic that, on a day-to-day basis [Fire Rescue Victoria] faces the current problem of being unable to keep critical frontline fire appliances on the road without faults and failures,”
Mr Marshall wrote.
“This crisis is exacerbated on catastrophic fire risk/weather events. “Respectfully, I warned you that this fire season would be late and that it would be severe. I implore you to realise the gravity of the situation as Victoria enters a fire crisis.” Traditionally, Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) has been called upon for its ability to formulate taskforces comprising crew with frontline appliances to respond to extreme weather days
and events across country Victoria. However, Mr Marshall said this was currently not possible given that, due to the truck fleet crisis, the organisation would be forced to deplete resources from metropolitan Melbourne to simply formulate a taskforce.
Further, any such taskforce would be formulated with unreliable fire trucks, “which is a danger to both firefighters and the community”.
Approximately 60 fire trucks in metropolitan Melbourne are more than 15 years old and have cracked doors, old engines, and rusted roofs. More than 50 per cent trucks fleet have passed their used-by date and continuously fail in operations and are removed from service only to be put back in service because there are simply no replacements.
“Fire Rescue Victoria’s fleet is in absolute disrepair,” Mr Marshall said.
“The extent of this truck crisis cannot be dismissed as one that can simply be remedied by increased maintenance or servicing. Any such response ignores the severity of the catastrophic state of FRV’s fleet.”
In a leaked cabinet-in-confidence budget bid, FRV has itself warned the Victorian Government that it does not have the fleet or equipment needed to “sufficiently and sustainably protect their workforce and the diverse communities they serve” or to “protect personnel and communities”.
According to its budget bid for funds to replace approximately 15 aging appliances, there was “no certainty that a sufficient number of trucks will be active during increased fire danger days [and] FRV must risk compromising on the service that they provide to various Victorian communities”.
That funding request was rejected by the Victorian State Government. “Rather than continuing your approach of politicking and attacking the Union and its members via highly expensive lawyers and litigation strategies on the public purse, the UFU implores you to instead utilise and direct those monies towards replacing the FRV fleet and equipment that FRV firefighters urgently need,” Mr Marshall said.
Media Contact: Rebecca Urban 041179030