Tension about where to site Bushfire Centre of Excellence

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Local governments in metropolitan area with an existing or ongoing rural-urban interface can put in a tender for Bushfire Centre of Excellence, according to the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades.

THE McGowan Government is trying to reduce tensions around where its promised Bushfire Centre of Excellence will be built by calling for tenders from local governments, according to the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades.

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan said during the week the design and function of the $18 million Bushfire Centre of Excellence would be up for discussion at a Bushfire Mitigation Summit to be held in Kalamunda on Thursday, October 4.

Mr Logan said following the success of last year’s inaugural summit, the second expanded forum would include up to 100 participants with greater representation from volunteer brigades and groups.

On Saturday, September 29 the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades said Opposition Fire and Emergency spokesman Steve Thomas asked Stephen Dawson the minister representing the Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan about the announcement on April 13 of a rural fire division within the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the development of a Bushfire Centre of Excellence, both of which were to be co-located, according to comments the minister made on ABC radio at the time of the announcement and an interview on radio ABC South West and Great Southern on May 17 with the United Firefighters Union state secretary Lea Anderson.

Dr Thomas asked why Ms Anderson announced the proposed site of the new Bushfire Centre of Excellence was to be in Darlington, which is in the Shire of Mundaring and in the state electorate of Darling Range.

Mr Dawson said Mr Logan had requested the Department of Fire and Emergency Services develop a business case and project definition plan for the Bushfire Centre of Excellence, including options for its location and that once complete it would be taken to Cabinet for consideration.

On Saturday the association said it was aware a number of local governments and members of Parliament – including Volunteers Minister and Collie MLA Mick Murray – expressed concern the approach being taken was more of a ‘top-down” process than an open, widely consultative one more in line with the recommendations of the Ferguson Report.

“Evidently, there was enough concern raised to justify a re-think and we commend the government for acknowledging the importance of wide and open input into big decisions by calling for local governments to tender to build the facility,’’ the association said.

“The AVBFB supports the concept of the Bushfire Centre of Excellence and sincerely hopes its progression from this point continues with maximum consultation and inclusion of the peak body for WA’s incredible bushfire volunteers.’’

The AVBFB said the tender said the Department of Fire and emergency Services wanted to acquire land (or an existing facility) from a local government and have that local government build (possibly through an outsourced construction company) a new facility (or refurbish an existing facility) to DFES specifications, for the purposes of hosting the new Bushfire Centre of Excellence (BCoE).

The establishment of the BCoE was a key recommendation of the Special Inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fire (Ferguson Inquiry).

“The BCoE aims to improve rural fire management outcomes through leadership, collaboration and innovation across the sector.

“The initial and primary focus of the BCoE is to enhance the coordination and delivery of rural fire management training in Western Australia.

The document names “principles” of the future BCoE that include reflecting and serving the whole of the rural fire management sector, recognising excellence in rural fire management where it exists, irrespective of agency, organisation or affiliation and being decentralised in its delivery of training programs and other services to the extent possible, to promote adaptability, accessibility and local relevance.

The AVBFB said it was heartened but wary about a paragraph saying the BCoE would provide a ‘sense of belonging’ to volunteers and the broader bushfire community.

The paragraph said it would also afford career firefighters with enhanced training in bushfire management, hazard reduction burning, and bushfire behaviour.

And that the BCoE would eventually include a networked capability for research, planned burning, lessons learned and facilitating training for rural firefighters, especially for members of volunteer brigades.

The association said the tender continued with more detail, specifying that the BCoE should be located inside the area bound by Northampton to the north, Ravensthorpe to the south and west to the coast and within 60km by road to Albany, Bunbury, Busselton, Geraldton or Mandurah or in Northam, Collie, Katanning, Morawa, Jurien Bay, Boddington, Manjimup or Margaret River.

Or in the Perth metropolitan area but having an existing or ongoing rural-urban interface.

“The tender states the facility may be an existing building or proposed new one on a minimum of 4ha of land as well as being close to suitable sites for prescribed burning training, accommodation providers, catering providers and an airport,’’ the association said.

The primary requirement of the design of the facility was described as facilitating an integrated service provision across delivering training, coordinating research and administration to ensure that bushfire management was not considered in isolation, but also considered other, potentially conflicting ecological and environmental land management and legislative objectives and requirements.

The facility needed to have office space for up to 25 employees, training rooms suitable for up to 30 people each, a lunchroom and an alfresco seating area.