Long-term Bendigo CFA volunteer 'ashamed' at aspects of CFA debate, backs reforms

Members of the Maiden Gully Fire Brigade extinguish a fire on Patas Road in 2015.

Members of the Maiden Gully Fire Brigade extinguish a fire on Patas Road in 2015.

A BENDIGO-BASED CFA volunteer of 42 years says he is “ashamed” of fellow volunteers for social media “attacks” launched against the chief officer during the heated debate over Victoria’s fire services.

Andrew Howlett, who was the inaugural captain of Maiden Gully Fire Brigade, penned a submission to the fire services legislation inquiry in which he defended the Andrews government’s move to split volunteers and professional firefighters.

He said it was clear the fire services needed “significant change”, and believed the proposed creation of Fire Rescue Victoria would help to modernise services.

“There have been a lot of political games played on both sides of Victoria’s parliament as well as federally but it is clear that our fire services need significant change and have needed this change for some time,” Mr Howlett said.

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He expected better resources would become available for brigades, the CFA leadership would no longer need to focus on Melbourne’s population growth and services would no longer be duplicated.

Mr Howlett remains a member of the Maiden Gully management team, and said he had become “increasingly frustrated” with the direction of the CFA. He said some of the debate around the changes had been disappointing.

“I am ashamed of many of my volunteer colleagues for the attacks they have launched through social media on the chief officer and his team,” he said.

“I am left to wonder how disciplined our service actually is. Re-focusing the CFA as a volunteer organisation should be the stimulus needed to encourage more inclusive and effective brigades.”

His submission was one of 147 sent in to the inquiry – few of which were from central Victoria. The majority were from Metropolitan Fire Brigade officers based in Melbourne.

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The majority of the submissions were in favour of the changes, but a number of volunteers expressed their concerns about a lack of consultation and uncertainty about the impacts in rural communities.

Harold Flett, a volunteer of over 50 years, wrote a submission on behalf of the Donald Uniting Church.

He was critical of “union interference” in the process.

“We are concerned at the lack of consultation, and the attempt to ram legislation through despite the vociferous concerns of the huge number of CFA volunteers,” Mr Flett said.

“We are concerned that the welfare of the volunteers will suffer, and these are the backbone of our rural communities.”

The fire services inquiry sat in Swan Hill on Wednesday, and heard evidence from the acting officer in charge of CFA Bendigo, and the CFA Bendigo brigade chairman.

The report is expected to be tabled next month.

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