‘Get back out there’: Exhausted firies forced into firestorm

 

QUEENSLAND firefighters who begged for relief at the height of summer's intense bushfires were allegedly ignored and told to "get back out there", while crews on the Sunshine Coast were refused crucial new equipment.

A Courier-Mail investigation uncovered a "toxic" culture in parts of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service late last year, in which exhausted volunteers on the frontlines were ignored and requests for meetings about the problem were denied.

Firefighters claim their requests for relief during summer’s bushfire crisis were ignored.
Firefighters claim their requests for relief during summer’s bushfire crisis were ignored.

A married couple held high-ranking positions of inspector and superintendent in the same area over summer and sources felt they couldn't report their concerns to the couple without scrutiny.

The inspector told The Courier-Mail she would improve her "situational awareness" to make sure the same issues don't arise again.

Emails obtained by The Courier-Mail show that a first officer wrote to brigades in the southeast about rostering last December, only to be publicly condescended to in a return email written by the inspector which CC'd more than a dozen other firefighters.

Separately, on the Sunshine Coast, a decorated volunteer requested new equipment, including a new vehicle to replace an outdated truck and new fire masks. But she was ignored by management until QFES was contacted by The Courier-Mail. Her request was then denied.

A first officer addressed rostering difficulties in an email to management in December.

"Our volunteers have been awake all day, especially the crews going back to back, with very little sleep and we're giving them an hours' notice to pull an all night shift, then drive home.

A Sunshine Coast firefighting crew was denied vital equipment by high-ranking officials. Picture: John McCutcheon
A Sunshine Coast firefighting crew was denied vital equipment by high-ranking officials. Picture: John McCutcheon

That's dangerous," they wrote in the email. "It's not acceptable to continually postpone meetings because of operations."

In response, the inspector said the first officer's email was "offensive, lacks understanding, maturity and respect".

"I would rather see volunteers out on trucks and not sitting in a meeting room, given that we couldn't resource the ongoing fires on the night of the scheduled meeting.

"As you are very new to the role, I would encourage you to seek a mentor... to assist you with your First Officer role and responsibilities."

Exhausted firefighters feared the situation could have been disastrous, but said they couldn't even get a meeting with the couple to discuss it at the time.

The rostering dispute meant crews were kept on the fire grounds at major bushfires late last year for up to 20 hours, one source said.

The inspector told The Courier-Mail this week that the severity of the bushfires meant a meeting with all personnel simply wasn't possible

In a statement earlier this year, QFES said there were currently no complaints regarding the husband and wife in management positions.

QFES said it was organising the rollout of the new face masks.

Originally published as 'Get back out there': Exhausted firies forced into firestorm


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