Area to see major fire funding increase-funds for Rural under discussion

As part of the WA government’s response to the Margaret River fires, between $16-20 million dollars has been earmarked for the region to enhance its firefighting capabilities. The money will be going towards about 16 new appliances, fire shed extensions and the creation of a new fire station in Vasse with up to 30 professional firefighters. Currently, discussions are under way regarding  additional funding for Yallingup Rural.

About 50 volunteers, including 12 from Rural, Tuesday, heard FESA  Regional Director John Tillman and Capes District Manager, Danny Mosconi explain the government’s plans in response to the Keelty Report on the MR fires.

The other major message from the briefing was that things will not necessarily be different on a day to day basis once the area has been gazetted as a fire district next year.  They described the announcements as a great opportunity for the district.

Of the new funding, Dunsborough was forecast to get an extension to their shed to handle a new 4.4 and 3.4 urban tanker. Other additions include Wallcliffe 4.4, Vasse 1.4, Eagle Bay 3.4 urban truck, Rosa Brook 1.4, Augusta 3.4 urban tanker and 4.4, Margaret River possibly getting seasonal full time staff and Yallingup Coastal getting structural firefighting capabilities. The new Vasse station may be established in the next two years.

Discussions are under way regarding how Yallingup Rural will benefit from the new funding. Tuesday night Andy Thomson held out the possibility of a 12.2 bulk water tanker at the Siding shed as something he would like to see and possibly a new shed in the Sheoak-Sonning Loop area. although that would depend on developers’ plans and local government. There could also be enhanced training opportunities for structural fires, if desired.

The increased funding would also go towards “beefing up” the SES and new FESA managers for the Cape. It should also allow for new full time sector commanders to help manage the fires.  They agreed that it would be good if some of these commanders could be locally sourced. It was also possible some bushfire brigades could become fire and rescue service brigades.

The introduction of a gazetted fire district will not necessarily mean major changes for the brigade, the meeting was told.   Although the Fire and Rescue Service will be given primary responsibility to respond to fires it may not make that much difference in reality as the overriding factor will be who is best based to manage the fire. “This should not be seen as a red truck takeover”, they said.

They said the plans were drawn up in the second half of last week with the initiative coming at cabinet level and “hell of a lot of detail needs to be worked out.”  The new gazetted areas were drawn up very hastily and between now and July, when the districts will be gazetted, there will be time to fine tune the areas affected and consequently Indjinup might be added to the gazetted area as will probably be the case with Molloy Island.

FESA management will be meeting with the local brigades directly to get their reaction to the plans, their ideas and to see whether they are interested in getting more involved in structural fire fighting and in breathing apparatus fire fighting,

Tillman said that there will be a tri-agency (FESA, DEC and local government) review of the MR fires management and it will be run by a yet unannounced independent executive.

They expected the DEC moratorium on burns within 5k of townsites and rural subdivisions to end prior to this year’s burns season and would not be dependent on the establishment of the new Office of Bushfire Risk Management. They did not expect the body to have a veto on the day of the burn but rather they would approve burn plans. They also did not expect the office to be responsible for private property and permit burns. However they expected that the FCOs would “eye ball” any property prior to issuing a permit.

There was a discussion on how the brigades will attract additional volunteers for the new equipment with incentives such as a waiving of ESL fees or financial incentives suggested by the attendees. The FESA managers suggested dedicated resources to attract volunteers.  They also raised the possibility of a funded Bushfire Ready coordinator coming out a review currently being carried out on bushfire preparedness arising from the first Keelty report.  There was also discussion about the need for better communications if all the agencies will be working more closely together and there was also a request for better followup to fires and publicly available review documentation so others could learn from the experience.

They explained that to help pay for the new investment the ESL levels in the gazetted districts will be increased from 5 to perhaps 4 or 3. (Currently ESL 5 incurs a charge of $55 while level 3 could be a maximum of $140 Level 1 is a maximum of $280.)

note: The blog has been updated with additional information Wednesday pm.

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