Australia Confusion reigns for WA's regional bushfire volunteers over safety legislation ahead of 'high-risk' fire season

00:56  30 november  2021
00:56  30 november  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Regional bushfire volunteers are unsure of their legislative responsibilities and rights.  (Supplied: DFES/Evan Collis) © Provided by ABC NEWS Regional bushfire volunteers are unsure of their legislative responsibilities and rights.  (Supplied: DFES/Evan Collis)

As Western Australia enters yet another bushfire season with a forecast for elevated fire danger, confusion remains over who will be allowed to help battle the state's predicted summer blazes.

About one-quarter of the 300 bushfire brigade volunteers in the City of Greater Geraldton (CGG) will not be permitted to attend an active fire incident until they complete formal bushfire training.

The requirement was introduced by CGG ahead of the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2020, expected to come into effect in January 2022.

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Over 18 million hectares have burned in the Australian bushfire season 2019–2020 as of mid-January according to media reports, destroying over 5,900 buildings including over 2,800 homes. Close to the fires , smoke is a health risk because it contains a mixture of hazardous gases and particles that can irritate the eyes and the respiratory system. The effects of smoke exposure and inhalation range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbated asthma and premature death.

The 2019-2020 bushfires have destroyed over 2,500 buildings (including over 1,900 houses) and killed 27 people as of January 7, 2020. Please use this thread to discuss the impact that the Australian bushfires have had on yourself and your loved ones, offer emotional support to your fellow Redditors, and share breaking and ongoing news stories regarding this subject. Many of you have been asking how you may help your fellow Redditors affected by these bushfires .

A letter was sent to 70 CGG volunteer fire fighters in late November, some with more than 20 years' experience, notifying them they no longer held approval to participate in active fire incidents.

Director of infrastructure services Chris Lee conceded the timing was "not great" for volunteers to take a minimum six-hour training course during the harvest period.

"A lot of our volunteers are farmers and work in that industry," Mr Lee said.

"But the legislation is the legislation ... we need to be prepared, organised and ready for this season.

Calls to unite state's response

A major criticism of the WHS Act lies in the contrast between the way regional and metro governments handle bushfires.

Brendan Pratt, the chief bushfire control officer for the shire of Moora, said the management of bushfires by regional governments was not properly understood by state government.

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fires caused over .884 billion (2020 USD) in damages,[2][3] including .5 billion in property damage and .384 billion in fire suppression costs.[2][3] Climate change and poor forest management practices contributed to the severity of the wildfires.[10]. United States agencies stationed at the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho maintain a "National Large Incident Year-to-Date Report" on wildfires, delineating 10 sub-national areas, aggregating the regional and national totals of burn size, fire suppression cost, and razed structure count, among other data.

As Australia ’ s unprecedented bushfire season continues to unfold, competing arguments have been made about the principal causes of the human and environmental tragedy – particularly around the role of climate change. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has acknowledged that climate change has Bushfire experts say that in normal years hazard reduction is a way to control the behaviour of fires , but the changing climate is making it harder to carry out prescribed burns and, according to fire chiefs, it is not a “panacea” for extreme bushfires . Here is what we know about the long-term influences on the

At least two-thirds of the people who attend bushfire emergencies in the shire of Moora were what Mr Pratt called "spontaneous volunteers" and not part of formal brigades.

Mr Pratt said there could be grave consequences for the state if those "spontaneous volunteers" with years of experience were to be discouraged or barred from attending.

"The state has a whole army of people prepared to put their own resources, their own tools towards fire management in the regions, and their contribution is entirely unaccounted for," he said.

"This potential liability, and this Work Health and Safety [Act], is a sword hanging over our volunteers' heads."

Mr Pratt has been urging local governments across regional WA to work together and "push back" on the WHS Act.

"[Volunteers] are the backbone of this state's firefighting force," he said.

"All we ask is that the Emergency Services Minister comes out and backs us, backs our track record, and lets us get on with the job of putting out fires.

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Australia has been ravaged by intense bushfires . Ecologist Michael Dietze weighs in on why the fires are more intense and how ecosystems recover from fire . Combined with a particularly persistent period of drought and high winds, conditions have been devastatingly ideal for the worst fire season in recent memory. Since September 2019, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia have been ravaged by bushfires that have so far taken the lives of 27 people and an estimated billion animals.

During the 2019-2020 fire season in Australia , record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought fuelled a series of massive bushfires across the country. Although it makes sense that human-induced global warming is likely to have led to more bushfires , assigning a figure to that increased risk is complex. That is because other factors not directly related to climate change may also play a significant role. These include increased water use making the land drier, urban heating effects or unknown local factors.

"Come the first of January, if this uncertainty still exists ... the state will not understand what it's got until it's gone."

The WA Minister for Emergency Services, Reece Whitby, said he did not expect the WHS Act to impact volunteer numbers across the state.

"I have huge respect for volunteer firefighters and admire their dedication and commitment. We expect a lot of them, and that is why they deserve the highest levels of protection," he said.

"These laws have applied in most other states and territories for nearly a decade. I'm not aware of the laws having any impact on the rate of volunteering in other states."

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is undertaking an education campaign to inform volunteers of their roles and responsibilities within the Act.

Video: Small Northern Territory town Lajamanu sent into lockdown (Sky News Australia)

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