On September 15, 1500 firefighters and supporters marched through Melbourne, chanting "more firefighters, not less".
The Country Fire Authority (CFA), the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board (MFB) and the state Labor government are trying to reduce the number of firefighters by removing crew standards.
The CFA is refusing to increase numbers despite an independent panel recommendng in April that 24 CFA stations be upgraded. The panel found response times and service delivery standards are not being met in many parts of Victoria. The recommendation covers the state's growth centres, including outer suburban Melbourne and regional areas.
Victorian and national United Firefighters Union of Australia secretary Peter Marshall told the rally: "The government has not done one thing, the government has blamed the CFA, and the CFA blames the government. While that little game goes on, 23 communities have less than a 50% chance of getting a fire truck if they need one."
On August 18, Premier John Brumby named Victoria's 52 danger spots for the coming fire season. Fire stations covering 34 of the danger spots have been identified as needing extra firefighters.
"Less firefighters equals communities at risk", Marshall said. "We don't want that, and we will campaign very, very hard to make sure it doesn't happen."
MFB firefighters' quick and effective response time is also threatened. "Currently in Melbourne there are 269 professional firefighters who will respond in 5.03 minutes on average to rescue someone, to suppress a fire, or to extricate someone from a motor vehicle accident", Marshall said.
"The proposal … is not to have that mandatory figure at 269 but to just put enough people there on what they see fit on a daily basis.
"It doesn't work, it will cost lives. The community has a right to fire protection."
Footage of the previous fire season, in which 173 people died, was screened. Marshall said: "Climate change is here, it's not going to be kind to us."
Fire conditions are likely to be worse this summer. Greens MLC Colleen Hartland said: "Climate change is a real factor that we can't begin to resolve without more firefighters."
The rally also heard speakers from the Ambulance Employees Association and the Police Association. The UFU, AEA and Police Association are part of the Emergency Services Alliance.
As of September 15, there were only 42 days until Victoria's fire season starts.
[For information on the campaign, visit www.firecrisis.com.]