Proposed boundary changes leave rural fire fighters furious
RURAL Fire Service brigades in the Lockyer Valley remain worried about potential changes to their operational boundaries.
An earlier proposed extension to the Toowoomba levy area would have effectively wiped up Murphy's Creek, Withcott and Upper Flagstone Creek rural fire brigades' levy areas.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services is reviewing emergency levy arrangements for Toowoomba and surrounding areas.
Fire brigade members were furious about the proposed changes and lack of consultation, which was in contravention of QFES' own procedures.
QFES has since begun engaging with those affected, with a spokesperson confirming the consultation process was occurring.
"This involves extensive consultation with stakeholders, including RFS brigades, to ensure affected parties are aware of potential changes,” the spokesperson said.
But a member of the Lockyer Valley Rural Fire Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said this should have happened much sooner.
"(They) did not follow their own protocols straight up - they didn't consult with the area office for rural fire, the area command fire and rescue or the volunteer firefighters affected,” the RFS member said.
Proposed changes continue to concern volunteers, including how the redistribution of levy funds collected from ratepayers would affect rural fire brigades and whether brigades would still have the legal ability to respond to fires and conduct mitigation activities in their regions.
The RFS member said a sustainable funding model was vital to ensure the continued operation of the brigades.
They said the funds collected by the emergency management levy were used by rural fire brigades to pay power and rate bills as well as other vital costs such as supplying volunteers with food while on duty.
"If this was to change, all of those properties being taken over by Fire and Rescue would no longer pay the rural fire levy, which would have a negative impact on the capacity for the rural fire brigades to continue being funded,” the RFS member said.
"They shouldn't have to spend their Saturdays raising funds to pay the power bill, they shouldn't have to spend their Saturdays raising funds to give themselves food on the fire ground.”
The RFS member also had concerns about the ability of Fire and Rescue Crews to adequately respond to emergencies on rural properties where their heavier vehicles could encounter access problems.
"Rural fire brigade appliances are built specifically to get into hard to access areas,” they said.
"They're all four-wheel drive, they're designed to service the community, and service bushfire and rural fire needs.”
But a QFES spokesperson said the changes wouldn't impact how brigades responded to incidents.
"Procedures are well established to ensure urban firefighting crews adequately respond to emergencies,” they said.
"RFS brigades in these areas will continue to service their local community without change. This review will not affect the autonomy of RFS brigades.”
The spokesperson also denied the proposed changes were a result of any budget concerns from QFES.
"QFES operates within its allocated budget,” they said.
"It is vital levies are routinely reviewed to ensure they are applied correctly and that they accurately reflect the level of service QFES provides to the community.
"The additional funds from the Emergency Management Levy changes will be reallocated to areas of expenditure required to provide enhanced services to the Queensland community.”