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Editorial: Strong, safe and sustainable
By Adam Barnett, VFBV Chief Executive Officer
Speaking at an ‘Every Woman Every Child’ event, it was Melinda Gates who said “The world is full of
what seem like intractable problems. Often, we let that paralyse us. Instead, let it spur you to action.”
From a CFA perspective, it’s not hard to think we are surrounded by intractable problems and challenges. On those days I remind myself that every journey starts with a single step, and as long as we keep putting one foot in front of the other then today is better than
One of the difficulties that VFBV often faces is how to communicate progress on issues that seem intractable, or where inadequate funding or resourcing simply makes solving them next to impossible.
This month, I am updating
members on some of these ‘slow burn’ type issues that we are working very hard on in the background but are still struggling to get traction or see results. I can however assure you we have not forgotten, nor have we given up.
It won’t surprise anyone that
training floats to the top of the list.
VFBV continues to hear from many of you about the difficulty brigades are having embracing the new general fire fighter program (GFF) that replaced minimum skills. While the new package was designed to be more flexible and modular to support a diverse range of delivery options, many continue to report difficulty in getting new volunteers through the
VFBV continues to pursue a review of GFF. While a review was committed to when the original program was rolled out, it has taken some time for CFA to recommit and schedule it. In fairness, the CFA Training department has had a little bit going on with other packages but given the frequency of brigade complaints - CFA has agreed to prioritise this work and are commencing a
Members would also recall that the Chief Officer commissioned AFAC to conduct an independent peer review into CFA Training back in 2021. That review made 14 recommendations, with CFA accepting all of them.
We along with many others have poured blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes to ensure this is not yet
another review that simply adorns a shelf gathering dust. We have contributed to work groups, focus groups, steering committees and implementation plans to try and influence outcomes and results from this review.
While we remain optimistic that good work continues, both Samantha Collins and I, in our roles on the Steering Committee have continued to raise the concerns of volunteers about the lack of
meaningful demonstrable progress. Volunteers tell us they should be able to touch, feel and experience improvements from this work, not just read about all the great work that has been done to date. We are told that the recommendations of the working groups are progressing to the executive and have been assured progress is not far away. While confidence is waning, we will continue to apply pressure to ensure all the good will and massive effort that has gone into addressing the report’s
recommendations are not lost.
One stumbling block will be the lack of additional funds to implement some of this work that makes implementation very challenging. The lack of government investment in CFA systems and technology remains a significant impediment to progress. But we are encouraging CFA to make incremental progress and communicate transparently about which initiatives cannot be implemented due
to funding, and those that can - ensuring that relevant business cases and funding bids can be made for government consideration.
And while I could dedicate pages and pages on the work we are doing to progress training issues that have been raised with us through District Councils, I will finish this section by assuring members their concerns around the ever expanding training requirements, longer courses
and additional skills maintenance requirements is well heard and understood.
Delegates are working very hard to highlight to CFA the issues of concern and are offering to work with CFA to try and find solutions.
While CFA offers multitudes of different leadership style programs, these have been inconsistent and fragmented across different organisational units resulting in no clear or formalised pathways for volunteers to access formal leadership opportunities. CFA agreed to address these gaps by forming a volunteer leadership development project back in October 2020. The project was designed to establish a strategic approach to leadership
development and implement a connected suite of programs that provide deliberate pathways to build transferable leadership skills.
While COVID interrupted a lot of this work, as did significant changes to personnel across CFA’s Human Resources and Training areas, progress on this project has been painstakingly slow. VFBV continues to express its disappointment in lack of progress on this project and will
continue to monitor and encourage more tangible progress.
Readers of our regular 2- Minute-briefings would be well aware of the significant work we are doing to assist CFA improve its conflict and discipline processes.
VFBV remains deeply concerned about CFA’s formal hearing processes that require volunteers to be self-represented or left to
arrange their own representation. We continue to express how unjust this is as well as the lack of checks and balances that should assure procedural fairness and natural justice being observed during the hearing process.
We continue to highlight the significant power imbalance that exists between CFA and the volunteer member being accused of wrongdoing. Everyone deserves a fair
VFBV has been calling for a program of hearing advocates that would undertake the same training that CFA’s hearing officers undergo but would be responsible for assisting the volunteer present their case and ensure volunteers are receiving the same duty of care and support as any other member.
The cornerstone of
Australia’s justice system is set on principles such as procedural fairness, justice being blind and the presumption of innocence. While CFA has made significant progress on reforming its conflict and discipline processes, there is still much work to do. Sadly, we have approached an impasse with middle management on the development of a hearing advocate program. Efforts are now being made to escalate internally, and we will keep you apprised of progress.
Volunteers continue to raise concerns with the new volunteer recruitment hub. While the system appears to work well when both the brigade and recruit have access to reliable internet and technology, the advantages start to fade very quickly if either party can’t access or are not
comfortable with doing everything online.
While there was considerable push back during early discussions, we are starting to see these concerns being heard and taken seriously. Delegates to our Member Services Committee are continuing to monitor and advocate for improvements.
In a good news story, CFA has recently released its revised Hose Testing SOP incorporating much of the VFBV feedback that was provided. The SOP is well set out, concise and easy to follow.
Pleasingly CFA has removed the requirement to pressure test every hose after every use. Brigades highlighted that
this practice was unnecessary unless the hose had been used in a hostile environment, and that firefighters should be trusted to inspect hose for damage and make a decision on whether it needed further pressure testing or not.
In response to this feedback, CFA has modified its procedure only requiring hose to be inspected after use. Pressure testing is now only required if defects are found or suspected.
Hose is still required to be tested at least once annually and each time after repair or recoupling. This is a commonsense approach and shows CFA is listening to feedback.
In closing, while hearing about some of the intractable issues we are working on may be a depressing read for some, VFBV is pursuing more than 100 of these kind of issues through our structures. To its credit, CFA is at the table and
indicating it is eager to work with us on finding improvements.
Please don’t lose sight of the incredible work that both CFA and VFBV achieve together, and the fact that regardless of our different approaches - each is seeking to achieve a strong, safe and sustainable CFA for all.
From a VFBV perspective, I can
assure you we won’t ever stop trying.
For several years now VFBV has been active in calling for support for the expansion of Victoria’s Presumptive Legislation scheme. We have
campaigned strongly for female reproductive cancers to be added to Victoria’s presumptive legislation, championed by former MP Tania Maxwell through her private members Bill in May last year.
In June of this year, the Minister for Emergency Services the Hon. Jaclyn Symes announced her intent to expand Victoria’s scheme to include the three female reproductive cancers. The VFBV Board formally commended this announcement and acknowledged the Minister’s personal contribution and
advocacy in pursuing these changes.
In addition to primary site cervical, ovarian and uterine cancer, VFBV has been pursuing the further expansion of the scheme to pick up the remaining six cancers that were added to the Commonwealth’s scheme being primary site lung, skin, penile, pancreatic and thyroid cancers and malignant mesothelioma.
VFBV has called on the Victorian Government to align its scheme to ensure Victorian firefighters enjoy the same protections and
support as their federal counterparts in the ACT and NT, noting that the Tasmania Government has also announced it is adding these cancers (but not primary site uterine) to its own scheme.
Acknowledging the similarity of exposure to hazards by all firefighters and given how frequently Victorian firefighters assist their interstate colleagues, it is VFBV’s desire for the prescribed cancers covered under presumptive legislation to be as uniform as possible across
VFBV supports any efforts to expand Victoria’s presumptive legislation scheme to include these additional cancers. Similarly, at least three other jurisdictions have added PTSD to its firefighter presumptive legislation schemes in order to acknowledge the routine mental health occupational hazards frequently experienced by first responders. Tasmania added PTSD in 2019, Northern Territory in 2020, and Queensland added mental injury to its presumptive scheme in 2021. VFBV
is pursuing similar arrangements here in Victoria.
Vacancies on the VFBV Board will arise when the terms of four VFBV Board members expire on the 1st October
2023. Of the four members whose terms are expiring, two are eligible for re-appointment.
VFBV invites applications from any CFA volunteer who is motivated by the prospect of making a difference and believes they have the skills to contribute to the VFBV Board.
The role of a board member involves contributing to VFBV direction, policy
determination and monitoring the performance and governance of the Association. This includes actively contributing to policy discussion, consulting with CFA volunteers and contributing to the identification and management of strategic issues.
VFBV is seeking applications from gender and culturally diverse candidates in addition to a diverse range of skills and experience including applications from diverse brigade
types and classifications.
Members should familiarise themselves with the VFBV Board member role statement and key selection criteria available from the VFBV website or via the office at (03) 9886 1141.
Applications close on Monday 28th August 2023.
Feedback is being sought on a CFA proposal to update its policy
covering Working with Children Clearances.
This draft policy extends the requirement for all volunteers to hold a current working with children check (WWCC). The policy proposes a phased approach, requiring all members of a brigade management team and various other roles to hold a WWCC by June 2024. The policy then extends this requirement to all group and deputy group officers, as well as all members of a
brigade that has members under 18, requiring them to hold a WWCC from June 2025. The final phase requires every volunteer to hold a WWCC from June 2026 as a condition of membership.
VFBV is seeking feedback from volunteers to help inform a VFBV response. Feedback can be provided by individuals, brigades, groups and District Councils.
Please visit the VFBV website for more information, including a copy of
the draft policy.
Feedback is due by Monday 14th August 2023.
Feedback is being sought on a proposed CFA Brigade/Group Finance Policy Suite. The suite encompasses six draft policies that seek to clarify the processes surrounding the
management of brigade and group finances.
The draft policies cover things like approvals required for purchases, restrictions on the number of bank accounts, how funds can be spent and records required etc.
Brigades and groups are encouraged to go through the policies and provide any feedback to help inform VFBV response to CFA.
Feedback from members ultimately leads to either VFBV support or non-support for a specific policy, as well as contributing to our advocacy around
amendments. Feedback can be provided by individuals, brigades, groups and District Councils.
Please visit the VFBV website for more information, including a copy of the draft policies.
Feedback is due by Monday
14th August 2023.
Volunteers are likely to be incredibly disappointed to read EMV’s submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2022 Flood Event in Victoria.
Neither VFBV or VICSESVA were consulted on EMV’s submission. This fact becomes obvious upon reading the submission and the underwhelming and brief mention of the efforts made by the volunteer workforce during the
four long months of the flood campaign. Of the 115 page submission, the only overall metric of volunteer contribution recorded is contained within one sentence of the whole report:
“More than 2500 volunteers from 147 VICSES units were involved in the flood response, with more than 145,000 hours collectively volunteered.”
If members are looking for the section that covers CFA’s significant contribution to the flood event, you will not find one. In fact, the single
sentence above is the only reference to the total volunteer contribution to the event.
Given conservative reports show more than 2,700 CFA volunteers responded to flood incidents during the event, and are estimated to have contributed over 8,000 deployments to the campaign, VFBV believes these facts should have warranted coverage.
VFBV continues to remind members that EMV has been officially classified by the VFBV Board as an organisation of concern and cautions any
member relying on EMV statements claiming they respect, appreciate and consult with volunteers advising these statements are likely to be disingenuous at best.
Thankyou to the thousands of CFA volunteers who completed last year’s VFBV vol survey.
We are currently analysing responses and
preparing this year’s report. Summary results have been provided in the June edition of Fire Wise in our Quarterly Supplement.
To each of the volunteers who took the time to complete the most recent survey, you have contributed to making CFA a better place to volunteer.
Your feedback will be used to pursue positive change and
contributes to our tireless advocacy on behalf of all volunteers. We couldn’t do it without you.
Fire Wise - August 2023 online only edition
The August 2023 edition of Fire Wise has been published online only, this edition and past editions are available from the Fire Wise website.
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