By Mitchell Clarke
Pakenham will be one of the stations affected under the Andrews Labor Government’s sweeping new legislation to transform the CFA into a fully volunteer organisation.
The State Government introduced the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment on Wednesday 29 May to provide “much needed and overdue reforms to the state’s fire services”.
The MFB will be removed to make way for a brand new service – Fire Rescue Victoria, which will cover existing Metropolitan Fire Brigade boundaries and serve metropolation Melbourne, outer urban areas and larger regional centres across Victoria, including Pakenham, Cranbourne and Dandenong.
A spokesperson from Pakenham CFA told the Gazette they were “not permitted to comment on these matters” however a veteran CFA volunteer of over 25 years from another station claims there is disharmony at the Pakenham Fire Station. Pakenham CFA Commander Ian Cross strongly refutes this claim.
“The Pakenham CFA enjoys one of the most harmonious relationships between staff and volunteers existing anywhere within Victoria,” Mr Cross said.
“Both parties work cooperatively to protect the community they serve. Both the staff and volunteers are aware and know what each other bring to the organisation and respect the role each plays in that endeavour.
“Your assertion about the volunteers being relegated to the John St satellite station are factually incorrect. Volunteers have a choice as to which station they respond to, with some attending the main station and others choosing John St satellite. That is a personal choice based on their residences.
“Pakenham CFA continues to support the wider Cardinia Community in a collective and joint manner. Your article has disenfranchised many of the volunteers who are members of Pakenham CFA, as well as the career staff employed to protect the community.
“I know the volunteers at Pakenham will continue to serve their community to the best of their ability, both now and into the future, as will the career staff at Pakenham.”
The CFA veteran claims otherwise.
“The volunteers are stuck at the old station on John Street while the paid firefighters are based out of the new building on Princes Hwy,” the volunteer said.
The volunteer, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of suspension and backlash, says the Government are trying to force out volunteers.
“They are certainly trying to get rid of volunteer firefighters around the outer metropolitan areas and replace them with paid staff,” he said.
“There have been a lot of volunteers that have just packed up – they don’t want to do it anymore. If you’re not appreciated for your work, why bother anymore?”
Sharing this sentiment is Liberal Member for Gembrook Brad Battin who claims the push for legislation is a move to “break up the CFA” which will put the lives and safety of Victorians at risk.
“Daniel Andrews did not have the courage to bring this to Parliament before the federal election – because he knows the Fire Rescue Victoria legislation is wrong,” he said.
“It disrespects volunteers, it fixes no problems and delivers no increase to community safety.
“This will create a divide between career fighters and volunteers, why would we destroy a system which already works?
“The Government will use response times as an excuse but how will a badge on the shoulder increase response times? They still have to be out in 90 seconds.”
But Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville said Victorian cities and suburbs have grown significantly and the services are in need of modernisation.
“Our firefighters are the best in the world and as our population grows, we’re making sure that they and the Victorian community have the modern fire service that they deserve,” Ms Neville said.
“We made a commitment at the last election to reform our fire services and ensure our career and volunteer firefighters are supported in keeping the community safe – and that’s exactly what we’re delivering.”
Acting CFA CEO/CO Gavin Freeman said he is confident these reforms present an opportunity for the CFA to grow as a community-based volunteer organisation.
“CFA has a long and proud history of service to the community and we see these reforms as a great opportunity to improve fire services to the whole community,” Mr Freeman said.
“This includes enhancing the roles of volunteers and building a stronger CFA partnership with Fire Rescue Victoria.
“CFA members will be front of mind for our leadership team as we work through the changes and we commit to engaging extensively with volunteers, career firefighters and staff through the process.”
The new model wouldn’t come into effect until mid-2020 meaning the upcoming 2019-20 fire season will be unaffected.