Victoria’s volunteer firefighting force has shrunk by nearly 3,500 members its biggest fall in numbers since 2013.
- New CFA boss Jason Heffernan said many of the volunteers had to be removed from operational duties because essential training had not been completed
- Beechworth CFA captain Bruce Forrest said the training system had not been functioning well in recent years
- CFA volunteer numbers have been falling steadily since 2010, when there were 40,000 volunteers in the state
In the Country Fire Authority’s annual report, released today, the volunteer firefighting force numbered 30,977, down from 34,483 the year before.
Recently appointed CFA boss Jason Heffernan said many of the volunteers had to be removed from operational duties because essential training had not been completed.
“What we had to do was take a stance,” he said.
“Those that hadn’t done that critical safety training were classified as non-operational.”
Mr Heffernan, who has been in the job for less than two weeks, said he hoped the reassigned volunteers would return to frontline duties as COVID-19 restrictions ease and brigades get together to train.
But Beechworth CFA captain Bruce Forrest says it’s not entirely the volunteers’ fault and the letter telling firefighters they were off the trucks left a bad taste.
“The training system has been not really functioning for the last two years,” he said.
“I find respect is a big thing that lacks in the CFA at the moment, respect for volunteers, their intelligence, their experiences.”
He hopes the new boss will be able to make some positive changes.
“There’s a new chief officer, he may be able to change the culture,” Mr Forrest said.
“I hope we can change the culture.”
What is behind the long-running CFA dispute in Victoria?
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) dispute has dominated Victorian politics, spread into the federal arena and become the subject of court action.
Volunteer numbers have been falling steadily since 2010, when there were nearly 40,000 volunteers in the state.
It has been a turbulent few years for the CFA, which has also had to grapple with the state’s biggest bushfires in a generation.
It has also been at the centre of a bitter political dispute between volunteers and the United Firefighters Union over its restructure as a volunteer-only service, which took effect in July this year.
The CFA has also been investigated over allegations of systemic bullying and discrimination by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
The reports findings have remained secret after the UFU won a court case to block their release.