The Victorian Labor government has announced its plans for restructuring Victoria's fire services.
Currently, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade covers only part of the Melbourne metropolitan area, while the Country Fire Authority (CFA) covers not only rural areas but also regional cities and many of Melbourne's suburbs.
The proposed law would create a new body, Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), which would cover the whole Melbourne metropolitan area and regional cities.
The CFA would continue to cover rural areas. It would also have a presence in 35 joint FRV/CFA stations in urban areas, but only to organise volunteers. FRV would employ all paid firefighters, while the CFA would be a volunteer-only organisation.
United Firefighters Union (UFU) state secretary Peter Marshall told Green Left Weekly the proposed change is "a great thing". He said the current system is "antiquated". The urban/rural boundary has not changed in more than 60 years. Long-urbanised suburbs such as Dandenong and Springvale are still classified as "rural".
According to Marshall, the urban areas covered by the CFA have problems with emergency response times. He said he respected the work of volunteers, but because they often live or work some distance from the fire station, there is often a delay in mustering a crew.
Another problem is that a law passed by the federal government last year gave organisations of emergency service volunteers the right to challenge enterprise agreements for paid emergency service workers. In the case of the CFA this would enable Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria, whose leadership is very hostile to the UFU, to block an enterprise agreement for paid firefighters. This would lead to long delays and expensive litigation.
Marshall said that because the new FRV will employ paid firefighters only, the federal legislation will not affect enterprise agreements for FRV employees.
The new law has yet to pass the Victorian parliament. It will need the support of cross-benchers in the upper house. The UFU has begun a campaign of TV and radio advertising to support the changes.