Tomorrow July 1 marks a historic day as the Country Fire Authority’s ‘integrated’ metro and regional stations and Metropolitan Fire Brigade merge to become new service Fire Rescue Victoria.
The controversial move led by the state government comes after years of bitter disputes about the proposal between the government, the United Firefighters Union, volunteers association Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria and CFA volunteers.
CFA stations at Sunbury, Ballarat and Bendigo will be among 38 ‘integrated’ stations to transition to the new FRV.
Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria board member Bill Maltby said that late changes to the deal had left their board and CFA volunteers angered and disappointed and he believed ultimately led to the resignation of highly respected CFA chief officer and CEO Steve Warrington last Thursday after 42 years of service.
Mr Maltby said the last-minute change would see the majority of CFA logistics staff and paid commanders seconded to the FRV and having to don the FRV uniform.
He said that as a result, the powers of the chief officer of the CFA had been eroded and they would no longer have control over who they could hire and fire to manage operations.
“We believe the way the government and UFU has gone about the establishment of the FRV has been tantamount to harassment,” Mr Maltby said.
“Local members Maree Edwards and Mary-Anne Thomas say they support CFA volunteers, if so how can they allow this to happen?” he said.
There are reportedly a lot of CFA paid personnel who will also be affected by the changes who are also unhappy about the move.
Macedon group officer Ian Hay said brigades were surprised and disappointed at the chief officer’s resignation but it was an indication of his frustration with the process.
“We will all continue to do what we do and continue to serve our communities,” Mr Hay said.
“It (the merger) won’t change what we do for our communities in any way. Training and field operations may be affected.
“We still haven’t been told a lot and we still haven’t seen a budget for the CFA. Things haven’t really been articulated to us yet.
“We will continue to support our communities and one another. However, we feel for the firefighters in the MFB and the CFA who have been affected by the changes. The MFB’s 129-year history will be wiped out tomorrow,” he said.
Elphinstone CFA captain Andy Chapman said the situation was an absolute disgrace and he was concerned that disappointed CFA volunteers would walk away.
“I am a 50-plus year veteran of the CFA and I am absolutely bewildered,” Mr Chapman said.
“The CFA wasn’t broken. It was a world-leading organisation that needed a little tweaking. Now it has been completely smashed to bits.
“It’s not about a better service. It is about power and greed. The more firefighters the UFU control the more money they will make and the stronger they become.
“Tell me how a union has got more power than the government? They are trying to paint things as being all happy and rosy but it’s not. They are saying volunteers will be better off under FRV but that’s not true.
“FRV senior officers are governed by the UFU Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. When they are on the fire ground they cannot have one set of rules for FRV and one for the CFA volunteers.
“I feel this won’t be the end of it. They won’t be happy until they have FRV at every station across Victoria and the CFA and volunteers are no more. FRV – stands for ‘Finally Rid of Volunteers’,” Mr Chapman said.
Local MPs Maree Edwards and Mary-Anne Thomas said the existing fire services model had been struggling to keep up with the changing demands of the growing state – with population growth, urbanisation and climate change some of the challenges into the future.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our communities – these reforms are about strengthening the CFA and supporting all of our firefighters who do an incredible job each and every day keeping Victorians safe,” the MPs said.
“Last week, Minister Neville announced that the Andrews Labor Government was providing a $126 million package for the CFA to go towards critical training and equipment.
“This money will help the CFA to continue its proud history by investing in its future to create a more robust volunteer firefighting service.
“As the local members for Macedon and Bendigo West we will continue to work with the local captains and brigades to support our volunteer firefighters who are committed to protecting our communities.”