Stawell volunteer firefighter representatives have vowed to do everything they can to stop the state government’s “foul” plan to split volunteer and paid firefighters into two separate authorities.
Under the overhaul, passed by Cabinet on Thursday, the MFB will be replaced with Fire Rescue Victoria, which will cover all paid firefighters, including those at 35 integrated CFA stations in Melbourne and regional centres.
The CFA will continue to exist and will become a volunteer only service.
Volunteer Brigades Stawell board member Mick Nunweek was appalled by the move and labelled it a foul change.
“There is no need to break and carve up something that works perfectly well,” he said.
Mr Nunweek said he was outraged the Premier and Emergency Services Minister failed to consult with CFA volunteers before the move was passed by cabinet.
“No change to the CFA should be done just because of an industrial agenda or secret deal and no change should be made without fair genuine consultation with the volunteers,” he said.
“Last year when the EBA came out we were very vocal about that and the EBA could not be signed off.
“When that happened the Volunteer Fire Brigade Victoria board wanted to have a meeting with the Premier and Emergency Services Minister, but they would not meet with us.”
Mr Nunweek said he was concerned the current dispute would compromise the safety of district communities at the next fire season.
“You won’t have the surge capacity, Victoria will be at risk,” he said.
“After Black Saturday one of the recommendations was keep the system as it was because it worked well, but this has been ignored.
“The future of the CFA and the safety of the Victorian community is dependent on the action of people to stop this change.”
Mr Nunweek promised neither himself or CFA volunteers would remain silent.
“I’d urge all CFA volunteers and members of the Victorian community to protest and actively contest this change,” he said.
“Write to local members and Labor ministers on how this will destroy the CFA.”
Stawell Fire Brigade group officer Kevin Erwin said there were currently a lot more questions than answers
“Things like the airport where we have the fire bombers, who has control over those,” he said.
“The cost of raising the fire service levy will mean we get older and lesser equipment, it will be harder to operate.
“We rely heavily on those bigger cities like Ballarat and outer metros for that greater surge capacities which CFA is renown for, that people can come from those areas and relieve the country firefighters.”
Stawell Fire Brigade has been completely operated by volunteers for more than 150 years.
Mr Nunweek said members of Stawell and all District 16 stations were extremely well-trained and able to deal with any emergency.
“The main message is to stay in brigades, we are there to serve the community,” he said.
“Volunteers Fire Birgade Victoria, myself and our board will be doing everything we can to stop this foul change.”
Ripon MP Louise Staley said there had been multiple enquiries and Royal Commissions into fire services, but none had broken up the CFA in the way the current proposal had.
“This is a political fix to solve a political problem with the United Firefighters Union that will leave country communities and regional cities with a weaker fire service than we have now,” she said.
“Over the past day, I have spoken with many local CFA volunteers. To a person, they are fearful of what they hear about this gutting of the CFA and they have not been consulted.”
Western Victoria MP Jaala Pulford assured the firefighters split would not affect the way Stawell CFA and surrounds operated.
“Volunteers at the CFA’s more than 1,220 brigades will continue to serve their communities and provide vital surge capacity,” she said.
“Our government will enshrine the status of CFA volunteers as sacrosanct in Victoria.
“Volunteers will be supported through changes to the CFA Act and a $56.2 million CFA Support fund for improved training, increased brigade support and improved health, safety and wellbeing.
“We’ll introduce immediate legislation to provide firefighters, career and volunteer, with presumptive rights.”