Katie Burgess

Record numbers join ACT Rural Fire Service after Black Summer | The Canberra Times

news, environment, act rural fire service, act rfs, act esa, black summer, act rfs record number volunteers, act rural fire service georgeina whelan, georgeina whelan

Nearly 60 new firefighters have joined the ACT Rural Fire Service, after the Black Summer bushfires ignited record interest in signing up. Police and Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman on Sunday welcomed 48 new recruits to the service. It brings the number of new rural firefighters this year to 58. “The recruits have shown great resilience and commitment during their training course, adapting well to new COVID-safe ways of operating to ensure the safety of all service members and the community,” Mr Gentleman said. The ACT Rural Fire Service received hundreds of new volunteer applications after one of the busiest fire seasons on record. According to the operational review of the season, the ACT declared a record 24 total fire ban days between October and February, compared to around five or six during normal bushfire seasons. Crews carried out an “impressive numbers of early and extensive deployments interstate” with around 450 ACT rural firefighters serving on a total of 1183 deployments over 2212 days. Then in January, crews fought the Pialligo Redwood Forest fire in Canberra’s east and the Orroral Valley fire to the south. READ MORE: ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said volunteers worked tirelessly to protect the community both in the ACT and across borders. “The 2019-20 bushfire season continually saw how hard our skilled firefighters and support crews work to keep us safe when bushfires and emergency situations threaten and I offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the ACTRFS members for their outstanding efforts,” Commissioner Whelan said. However it has been a divisive year within the Rural Fire Service. The ACT ESA faced a massive backlash over its decision to ban crews from using their lights and sirens while responding to fires this summer. One veteran firefighter said volunteers felt like like “cannon fodder” and “second-class citizens” at the height of the emergency response. Commissioner Whelan stormed out of a meeting with one rural fire brigade after a heated exchange over why she did not let firefighters go to Bredbo. Volunteer firefighters even considered walking off the Orroral Valley fireground because they felt “so disrespected”. The post-operation review found there was a perception ACT Rural Fire Service volunteers were “underutilised” during the Orroral Valley fire and that senior officers were underrepresented within the incident management team.

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