The Guardian January 31, 2001

Equipment safety hazards jeopardise Vic fire fighting

by Peter Mac

Victorian firefighters employed by the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency 
Services Board (MFESB) have banned major joint fire fighting operations 
with their rural counterparts, because of hazards to their own safety 
arising from unsafe personal protective equipment.

United Firefighters Union Secretary Peter Marshall last week deplored the 
MFESB's delays in rectifying defective equipment. He stated that the issue 
would not inhibit the joint "step-up" arrangements under which city 
firefighters served in supporting role to enable more of their country 
counterparts to participate directly in fighting fires.

Mr Marshall commented that the issue arose from the identification of 
thousands of substandard and condemned items of safety equipment in a 
safety audit carried out last October by Workcover Victoria.

The items in question were still being used in training courses, and the 
MFESB was recently issued with Provisional Improvement Notices for their 
repair or replacement.

A representative of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) has confirmed that the 
ban on major joint fire fighting operations is most unlikely to have a 
significant impact on the ability to fight fires in country areas.

He noted, "Two weeks ago the CFA controlled the biggest fire Victoria has 
had since 1985  14,000 hectares at Stawell  and 600 of our firefighters 
had no problem with that."

The MFESB has not denied that the equipment is faulty and that it should be 
repaired or replaced.

They grudgingly acknowledged that "the union has not completely affected 
our ability to help the CFA yet", but complained that "we are dealing with 
a very aggressive union led by ... a very militant union official in the 
old adversarial role."

Mr Marshall replied that: "the wildfire issue is a beat-up. The (MFESB) 
have the PIN notices from Workcover hanging over their heads and they want 
to cover up the fact that they have not been providing adequate personal 
protective equipment."

The dispute has been referred to the Industrial Relations Commission.

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