Glimpse of Gregory

LIKE many of you, I am watching the weather forecast anxiously to see what this summer's wet season will bring. And at the same time, driving across Gregory, I am often looking at the proverbial tinderbox. I've been told the potential for bush and grass fires is high from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean.

So it is distressing to read we are losing both bush fire brigade volunteers and SES volunteers. Recent media reports have stated 5000 SES volunteers have left the service and now the bush fire brigades are reporting losses in their ranks.

In both cases, experienced volunteers are being driven from the services through bureaucratic red tape. While every sensible person wants to keep these dedicated men and women as safe as possible, it seems doubtful that sending people on courses like 'How to Climb A Ladder' achieves anything.

But, according to media reports, even qualified electricians who regularly work on seven-metre high ladders are forced to go on such courses in order to be an SES volunteer.

It is not only a waste of his time and our money, but insulting. Such a volunteer is exactly what the SES needs, but the government's lack of recognition for prior learning and experience is driving high calibre people away.

We had a hint of this in some of the evidence given to the Flood Commission where experienced locals were not allowed to use their boats to assist people in floodwaters.

Training costs money, so surely there should be some judgement applied to whether everyone in the team should be doing every sort of training available.

Take the ladder-climbing course. Someone is paid to write it. Money is paid to put out the resulting 'fact sheets' and 'protocols'. Trainers are trained how to teach people how to climb a ladder. Someone has to test whether the trainees have passed and can actually climb a ladder.

And then every time a bureaucrat tweaks the 'ladder climbing' procedure, everyone has to re-do the ladder climbing course and be re-tested to show they know how to climb a ladder. It would be funny if this sort of red tape didn't cost so much taxpayers' money to carry out and cause so much frustration to volunteers.

Now we see media reports of over-regulation, repetitious training and a lack of recognition of prior learning forcing our rural fire volunteers to leave that vital service. It is infuriating because every year I write many letters of support for brigades across Gregory who are trying gain grants or raise funds to provide themselves with the equipment they need to do their jobs safely.

They are forced to do this because the same government denies them funding, even for vital equipment such as water tankers and radio communications.

We cannot afford to lose a single volunteer in either service, but instead of treating them like gold, the government treats the system as a cut-price, second-rate service and the members as if they were all idiots from 'Dad's Army'.

If you have an opportunity to support your local SES or Bush Fire Brigade, I urge you to do so as the sincerest way of saying thank you for their work. As we saw last summer, it really is a matter of life and death.

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