AgForce is calling for the State Government to stop treating rural firefighters like second-class citizens and give them the recognition and legal protection they deserve.
It comes as an independent review of Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) gets underway, with the Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland (RFBAQ) requesting its volunteers are classified as “public officers” under legislation – just like police, paid firefighters, or paramedics.
Currently, rural fire service volunteers put their lives on the line every day, and despite the uniforms and flashing lights, they have no more rights under legislation than the general public to protect them if things go wrong.
Increasingly, volunteers are being called upon to do more than what’s covered as authorised brigade activities under legislation – everything from storm damage and motor vehicle accidents to floods.
What’s more, the rural fire engine is not classed as an emergency vehicle because a Rural Fire Brigade volunteer is not an emergency officer – preventing it from parking next to a fire hydrant.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said it was time to stop treating rural firefighters like second-class citizens.
“Almost all of our members are impacted by fire management and have relationships with rural fire brigades,” he said.
“It’s not just that these men and women put themselves in the line of fire.
“It’s that these firies are almost all volunteers, battling blazes for sheer love of their local community.
“Australia’s unprecedented bushfires of 2020 have cemented its rural firefighters at the heart of the nation’s identity – which is something no elected politician would be wise to ignore.
“And yet the dismantling of the Rural Fire Brigades has been nothing short of appalling, leading to recent fire events being perversely hampered by declining volunteers and lack of support.
“The RFS only receives about five per cent of the total $800 million QFES budget. How can the 30,000 brigade members who defend 93 per cent of Queensland feel valued by an organisation which clearly does not value them?”
“For healthy landscapes AgForce members and the wider rural community need to be able to use fire proactively- therefore it is imperative that Queensland has a well supported Rural Fire Brigade volunteer network.
“With an independent review now underway, we intend to do all we can to support the RFBAQ in its push for greater protection.”