Backburn warning as 5000 firefighters banned

NEARLY 5000 volunteer firefighters have been stripped of uniforms and banned from fire stations, in a bureaucratic showdown over blue cards.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services yesterday revealed a controversial Plan B to transfer volunteers between fire districts to deal with any shortage of firefighters.

The QFES is writing to 4904 volunteers, warning that they can no longer visit a fire station, drive a fire truck or even wear a uniform until they apply for a "blue card'' criminal background check to work with children.

"As your role requires a blue card and you have chosen not to apply for one, you have chosen to no longer be part of the Rural Fire Service,'' the letter, signed by rural Fire Service chief officer Mike Wassing, says.

"You have 30 days … to say why I should not recommend that your membership with the RFB (Rural Fire Brigade) be terminated.

Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux says the loss of firefighters would mean a shortfall in vital backburning for bushfire season.
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux says the loss of firefighters would mean a shortfall in vital backburning for bushfire season.

"While you do not hold a blue card, you are not authorised to be on your current station premises or any other QFES site, hold or wear QFES equipment, uniform and/or personal protective clothing, and drive or be a passenger on a QFES appliance/vehicle.''

Rural Fire Brigades Association general manager Justin Choveaux yesterday warned of a shortage of volunteers for vital backburning before the bushfire season, with some regions losing half their brigade members.

"We need them right now,'' he said.

"This is the time of year to do hazard reduction burning to reduce the risk.

"We're going to have a big bushfire season.''

Mr Choveaux said many volunteer fireys were refusing to apply for blue cards because they did not come into contact with children, and objected to bureaucratic red tape.

He said the State Government might convince more firefighters to apply by offering them a free first aid course.

But Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said more than 80 volunteer firefighters had their blue card applications rejected.

Blue cards can be denied for crimes that range from child abuse, rape and murder to burglary, drug trafficking or frequenting a brothel.

The Opposition spokesman on fire and emergency services, Lachlan Millar, yesterday said the government had botched the blue card process and was "putting communities at risk'' from bushfires due to a "mass exodus'' of volunteers.

"The LNP will never unfairly sack our valuable and hardworking rural firefighters who sacrifice so much to keep their communities safe,'' he said.

"It is absolutely disgraceful that those volunteers, who have stood on the front line defending their communities, have been excommunicated over a paperwork technicality.''

A QFES spokesman said it was not legal to let volunteers fight fires without a blue card.

"This will not affect QFES' ability to maintain an effective fire and emergency response, including conducting hazard mitigation activities prior to bushfire season,'' he said.

"Existing strategies are in place to support areas where the ability of local personnel to respond to incidents may be limited.

"This includes directing resources from neighbouring areas to assist and pre-deploying assets around the state, if required.

"These measures have been used successfully in the past and will continue to be effective.''

Mr Choveaux said the Plan B would not work.

"How do you pre-deploy a volunteer, and what happens if the areas you want to pre-deploy from are having fires of their own?'' he said.

Originally published as Backburn warning as 5000 firefighters banned