I was a volunteer member of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) for several years and the last two of those years made me realise it was changing for the worst so I resigned.
Recently the Victorian Government has entertained the idea that the United Firefighters Union (UFU) could get more control over the CFA than ever before. This is a bad idea on many levels and it will impact the way the CFA operates to the point that volunteer levels will again decline. For an organisation that boasts it is a “Volunteer organisation supported by Career Staff” surely this screams irony.
I resigned from the CFA due to the demands that the career staff were placing on the volunteers when they couldn’t even meet those demands themselves. Let me give you just one example…
The career staff decided that the volunteers had to maintain a standard before they could attend a call out. In all, this was a good idea, however, when a paid staff member was not able to meet that same standard, they were still allowed to attend these same call outs that the volunteers were not. On several occasions I also saw paid members not even be able to find specific items on the truck.
The station I was based at was always earmarked as a career station but it did start off by being only volunteers. After any call out we attended, we always returned to the station, had a coffee and discussed what went right and what went wrong. It didn’t matter if the call out was at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, that was always what we did. When the career staff started at the station, that all changed. Any call out that finished after 11pm no longer had the usual return to station and discussion, instead we were told to go straight home so the staff could get some sleep. Yes, that’s right… SLEEP! How many jobs do you know where you get paid to sleep on the job?
The final straw in my case was when I went on a Pumper Strike Team to Daylesford. There were two career members in the truck and two volunteers. We arrived at the staging area and advised to wait as they weren’t sure at that time where we were to be deployed. Now comes the point that highlights my angst. Myself and the other volunteer were just itching to get out there and help with the battle, one of the career staff just turned to us and said “We don’t care, we are on double time”.
If the Victorian Government hands over control to the UFU, that will be the end of what they call “Integrated Stations” and even those brigades located next to a career station will be impacted. CFA volunteers still need to meet a standard before they are qualified as a firefighter and lets face it, we volunteer because we are passionate about it. We do not just treat it as “a job” and even our families understand this as they are affected every time we run out the door knowing we are about to do some good in the community even though it comes with risks.
From all the above you are probable thinking I am very anti career staff. Don’t misunderstand me on this part, Career Staff have a place in the CFA and they do a great job protecting the suburbs, but, the UFU are causing a rift between the Staff and Volunteers which in time will become a chasm. I have met many great staff and those were the ones who believed we were just as good as them and would go out of their way to work “with” us. The UFU believe a staff member should not have to report to a volunteer on the scene of an incident, but there are many volunteers out there who have seen more and are more experienced than some staff.
How about the UFU stop brain washing their members and start trying to unite the staff and volunteers. The volunteers are willing to do this but the UFU have to start viewing volunteers as valued members of the service and not just an obstacle to increasing their numbers.
The volunteers have the Volunteer Fire Brigades Union, but their hands are tied. If they try to take any sort of action to display their concerns about what is happening, it just gives more ammunition to the UFU to increase their stronghold on the CFA. What can a volunteer to do make their point heard?
If the UFU get their way then I can foresee the day when there is no such thing as an integrated brigade and if that happens then shouldn’t those brigades be amalgamated with the Melbourne Fire Brigade.
I used to be proud to say I was CFA volunteer. I can no longer say that, and all I can do is sit back and watch as the UFU gradually destroys the great reputation of an organisation that people respected.