Climate change like a nuclear-armed enemy, ex-fire chiefs tell Royal Commission

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action

CLIMATE CHANGE is exposing the operational limits of current firefighting efforts and forcing a step-change in how Australia responds to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) has told the Bushfire Royal Commission.

“I’ve been watching the enemy for 50 years now, and the enemy is geared up…the enemy being climate change and how that’s affecting natural disasters and fires,” Greg Mullins, former Commissioner, Fire and Rescue NSW, said in his testimony.

“They’ve suddenly got nuclear weapons, and we are trying to deal with that using conventional forces. We need a step-change in how we coordinate the insufficient resources we have to deal with this threat.

Providing state personnel to support local volunteers in bushfire-affected communities; stronger national coordination of emergency management responses; and ongoing support for strategic bushfire research were amongst the solutions outlined by ELCA members on Monday.

Mr Mullins added: “Fire seasons used to be sequential. They would start in Queensland and move south over the months; we could share fire trucks, aircraft, and people. But in 2019/2020, fires were burning in QLD, NSW, VIC and SA, with fires also kicking off in Tasmania and WA. So where do we get resources?” said Mr Mullins.

Peter Dunn, former Commissioner, ACT Emergency Services Authority, and a member of the Conjola Community Recovery Association, said: “We are seeing such large scale events that communities now are key to disaster preparation, response, and recovery. That’s a fact of climate change.”

Mr Dunn called for a nationally designed program to provide full-time support personnel to local, volunteer-led recovery efforts in extreme-weather-affected communities, and for this program to be delivered through state governments.

Lee Johnson, former Commissioner, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, suggested that as climate change fuels more severe extreme weather, emergency services need to operate in a more military-like manner—and this is a solution the Federal government can support.

“What’s missing is some kind of national command college that teaches about staff officer roles, planning, logistics, intelligence, and strategies for dealing with very large scale battles. We are confronted with a lot of battles in a greater climate change war,” said Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson also called for ongoing support for national, strategic-level bushfire research, such as that conducted by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (BNHCRC).

“The research that is done is independent and… of high quality. The work … has helped save lives and helped better operations. It needs to continue into the future, there is no doubt about that,” said Mr Johnson.

/Public Release.