Select Committee

PARLIAMENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES – LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

Select Committee On Bushfires

  Submission By: Chatswood West Ward Progress Association

 27th May 1994

SUMMARY OF OUR RECOMMENDATIONS

 Recommendation: The State Government undertake a leadership role by establishing ‘benchmarks’ or “best-in practice” measures in relation to hazard reduction.

Recommendation: That the State Government proclaim a land-use zoning; land classification or other appropriate instrument and require land owners to clearly mark “fire-trails” on all maps and plans

Recommendation: To satisfy the range of opportunities for community involvement and participation, it may be appropriate that under clause 36 (5) of the Local Government Act 1993 No. 30 dealing with the classification of public land, that categories be prescribed by regulation such as:-

(h)  i. Neglected Bushland appropriate for hazard reduction by controlled burning

(h) ii. Neglected Bushland appropriate for hazard reduction by manual means

Recommendation: That consideration be given to providing training opportunities for defence forces personnel by their participation in active measure related to bushfire prevention including burn-off and bush regeneration by manual means

Recommendations:

1. That adequately trained local people who have been issued with specialist clothing and equipment be consulted by Police, where practical,  prior to any evacuations being effected and that local knowledge and guidance by recognised by Police as pertinent and appropriate.

2. That any able-bodied person who has undergone basic fire-prevention training and been issued with an official arm-band as recognition of completion of such training be allowed to stay in planned evacuation areas to assist with fighting spot fires after a fire-front has passed.

Recommendation: That the State Government Review the adequacy of Local Government Disaster Plans

Recommendation: That consideration be given to training and equipping local residents groups to allow them to positively assist in bushfire fighting activities within their local area.

Recommendation: We would like to see some mechanism put in place whereby the NSW Fire Brigades assumed a lead role in all aspects of bushfire training e.g. training the Police Services in the appropriate approach to evacuation in the face of a bushfire threat

Recommendation: That remnant areas of bushland in urban areas be classified as to suitability for either hazard reduction by burning or hazard reduction by manual needs. That such classification be determined in consultation with local communities within a 2km radius of the the land for which the classification is proposed.

Recommendation: That the State Government facilitate the reprinting of The Complete Australian Bushfire Book by Joan Webster as it is an important work in relation to bushfire management

CHATSWOOD WEST WARD PROGRESS ASSOCIATION Founded  1929  

Terry Fogarty                                                                                                                              Phil Killen

President                                                                                                                                      Hon. Secretary

3 Valerie Avenue                                                                                                               3 Beaconsfield Avenue

CHATSWOOD WEST 2067                                                                                                                                    CHATSWOOD WEST 2067

27th May 1994

Mr. Mark Swinson

Clerk to the Select Committee on Bushfires, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House,Macquarie Street, SYDNEY NSW 2000

Dear Sir,

During January 1994 bushfires threatened a number of areas within Chatswood West a number of times on different days and in different locations. Whilst there was no loss of life and damage to property was relatively minor, the spectre of these bushfires and previous bushfires which have occurred on a regular basis remains imprinted in the minds and passions of many of our residents.

This Association and one of its members lodged formal submissions to the Honourable Ian Armstrong’s Cabinet Committee in February 1994. We have reviewed the Cabinet Committees Interim Report on Bushfire Management and Control; kept informed as to various groups views on these matters and continued to seek feedback from those affected. Our current submission to the Select Committee represents many thousands of hours of local community thoughts and expressions.

 

In accord with the terms of reference of the Select Committee we feel empowered and informed to be able to proffer considered views on the following matters:-

_____________________

Terry Fogarty

(a) hazard reduction and other fire prevention measures

We applaud the Government’s enactment of recent legislation to ensure landowners reduce ground fuel, including by controlled burning, and for Councils in fire-prone areas to appoint District Fire Committees (we assume that having been subjected to bushfires our area is classified as being ‘fire-prone’)..

We have experience in our area of the local Golf Club a few days before the January fires being told that Council would not support their application to reduce fire hazards. We also have large areas of bushland that have not been effectively managed by decades.

What we are still unclear of is what is a reasonable expectation for the community to have in regard to how much time landowners should be given to comply with hazard reduction. For instance, Willoughby City Council’s current proposal is that only “5% of bushland will be returned to a natural state within 2 years and only 10% within 4 years“. Furthermore Council has not published any measures regarding the “% of Fire Action Plans completed” on an annual basis. (Extracts from Willoughby City Council’s Draft  Management Plan 1994-1999).

Recommendation: The State Government undertake a leadership role by establishing ‘benchmarks’ or “best-in practice” measures in relation to hazard reduction.

Given that areas on the east-coast of Australia are classified as being subjected to major bushfire once every fire years ( a fact supported by the recorded incidence of breakouts in our area over the past few decades), it would appears that as a minimum, landowners would need to effect hazard reduction to safe levels on an annual basis.

(b) reviewing the proposals and findings of the Cabinet Committee established to inquire into the bushfires

5.1 Hazard Reduction

Refer to our comments to (a) above

5.2 Fire Trails

Our community raised the need for clearly identified and maintained fire trails.  Since the bushfires there has not been any discernible activity by local owners regarding this matter.

Recommendation: That the State Government proclaim a land-use zoning; land classification or other appropriate instrument and require land owners to clearly mark “fire-trails” on all maps and plans.

5.3 Powers of the Commissioner for the Bush Fire Services

We consider the recent legislative changes enacted adequate and appropriate.

5.4 Equipment

Refer to our response to item (g) below.

 

5.5 Aircraft

Please refer to our comments in respect to item (k) below.

5.6 Rehabilitation

The general community perspective is that needs to be an appropriate balance between the need for rehabilitation and the appropriate measures for hazard reduction. In many instances certain measures recommended by specialist environmental groups do not appear to be consistent with the overriding need to maintain appropriate safety levels e.g. systems of bush regeneration which require years if patient effort to achieve a pristine environment whilst commendable inconsistent with the pattern of fire in our area. The reality is that due to persistent neglect many areas of “bushland” are little more than weed and exotic infested open drains.

Recommendation: To satisfy the range of opportunities for community involvement and participation, it may be appropriate that under clause 36 (5) of the Local Government Act 1993 No. 30 dealing with the classification of public land, that categories be prescribed by regulation such as:-

(h)  i. Neglected Bushland appropriate for hazard reduction by controlled burning

(h) ii. Neglected Bushland appropriate for hazard reduction by manual means

 5.7 Defence Forces

We support the training and deployment of defence personnel in relation to bushfire activity.

Recommendation: That consideration be given to providing training opportunities for defence forces personnel by their participation in active measure related to bushfire prevention including burn-off and bush regeneration by manual means.

5.8 Evacuation

A. Role of the Police Service

We absolutely concur with the general perception that the Police Service was too ready to evacuate householders.

At subsequent Neighbourhood Watch meting we have ben advised by officers who directly undertook evacuations in our areas that given similar circumstance they intend to respond in exactly the same fashion.

We further point out that the Fire Brigade recommendation is that able bodied persons should be left in fire-threatened areas to assist with fire-prevention after the fire-front has passed.

Recommendations:

1. That adequately trained local people who have been issued with specialist clothing and equipment be consulted by Police, where practical,  prior to any evacuations being effected and that local knowledge and guidance by recognised by Police as pertinent and appropriate.

2. That any able-bodied person who has undergone basic fire-prevention training and been issued with an official arm-band as recognition of completion of such training be allowed to stay in planned evacuation areas to assist with fighting spot fires after a fire-front has passed.

 B. Role of Local Government

At a number of public meetings subsequent to the bushfires, local government representatives admitted publicly that their planned evacuation procedures were ineffective

At these public meetings the local government representatives undertook to take action regarding a number of matters concerned with bushfires. It is regrettable that to date there has not been any report or information forthcoming to local communities as a result of these undertakings.

Recommendation: That the State Government Review the adequacy of Local Government Disaster Plans.

5.9 Positive Comments on how the January fires were fought

The Progress Association is appreciative of all those who fight bushfires, work on reducing the risk of bushfires and those who render assistance during and after emergencies.

In regard to the Recommendations contained in the Interim Report this Progress Association is generally in accord with all recommendation.

(c) reviewing the findings and recommendations of the Ministerial Committee on methods of fire service funding

This Association was unaware of this committee and is unable to proffer any comment.

(d) treatment of victims, including the nature and speed of the provision of assistance and follow up assistance in the medium and long term

Many of us were victims in one way or another of the January bushfires. The lack of coordination between the Police Service and Local Government resulted in largely ineffective assistance to those evacuated. The Police sent evacuees to the local school whilst the Council established its support centre at another location.

In the medium term, the community was grateful for the assistance rendered by Council and State Government agencies with their support for public meetings which assisted us all with grieving, shock relief and managing trauma.

In the longer term, whilst we are appreciative of the positive outcomes from State Government Legislative outcomes, we detect a recurring community resurgence in the belief that nothing will ever really change. This is exacerbated by the lack of follow-up response by Council representatives. For instance, there were a number of items that Council representatives “took on board” and promised to follow-up. To date that has been scant information provided back to the community on these issues.

(e) compensation for fire-fighters killed or injured fighting fires

This Association has not considered this matter in depth but in principle supports fair and equitable compensation for anyone suffering loss as a result of activities on behalf of the community.

(f) the adequacy of systems for alerting the public of impending fire damage and the level of that danger.

The systems used by the Police Service seemed more than adequate. It would be preferable for as many avenues for announcing general information regarding fire risk be used e.g radio and TV “break-in” announcements. Has anyone considered whether Telecom could devise a reprogrammed “announcement” similar to automated wake up-calls which by using spatially based information could progressively “call” households in “at risk’ areas to notify them of potential danger ?

(g) the adequacy of equipment available to, and training of, bushfire brigades

Our general observation is all government groups, apart from the Police Service demonstrated outcomes that suggest their training in regard to bushfire action is first-rate.

In general the comments we heard from bushfire brigades and other groups that their equipment generally is adequate – their main concerns seemed related to the preventative neglect of bushland areas by landowners.

At the local level, their is strong desire within the community for training and equipment to allow local groups to participate positively in efforts to fight bushfires, particularly after a fire-front has passed.

Recommendation: That consideration be given to training and equipping local residents groups to allow them to positively assist in bushfire fighting activities within their local area.

(h) the adequacy or otherwise of building regulations currently in operation in NSW with particular emphasis on the Australian community bushfire safety standards for house.

This is a matter about which that this Association does not feel competent to comment.

(i) the use of Commonwealth resources in the recent fires and in future fires;

This is a matter about which this Association does not feel competent to comment.

(j) the role of the NSW Fire Brigades in bushfire fighting

This Association, on behalf of the community would like to express the viewpoint that it believes that the NSW Fire Brigades are ideally suited to the role of bushfire fighting in our area.

Recommendation: We would like to see some mechanism put in place whereby the NSW Fire Brigades assumed a lead role in all aspects of bushfire training e.g. training the Police Services in the appropriate approach to evacuation in the face of a bushfire threat.

 (k) the use of aircraft in firefighting

Based on the effective use of helicopter borne water in our area during the January fires and our understanding of the effectiveness of fixed-winged aircraft as an alternative means of fire-fight we encourage the Government to actively consider increasing availability of aircraft.

(l) the environmental impact of bushfire management and control on bio diversity and biophysical processes and the application of research, technology and management techniques to minimise impacts.

This Association supports living in harmony nature as far as possible. The unfortunate reality of urbanisation is that the mere fact of building and residing in a bushfire prone area does involve some risk. However, unless we recommend that we move our cities such as Sydney and Melbourne to the desert, it is also a reality that urbanisation has a negative impact on the environment.

This Association also believes in the fundamental right for a local community, to establish the standards it wishes to maintain given due regard for the bio diversity appropriate for Australia at various levels. As in many things in life we feel that it is appropriate that the needs and wants of as many distinctive viewpoints as possible be catered for by Society. Some people like to use the Bradley Method to regenerate bush, others feel that in certain instances the risk and time factors necessitate hazard reduction by “burn-off”. both viewpoints are valid in appropriate in varying circumstance. One of the most important things to a community that comprises large numbers of both young and older residents is predicability and the majority of people welcome flexibility rather than blanket regimentation.

Recommendation: That remnant areas of bushland in urban areas be classified as to suitability for either hazard reduction by burning or hazard reduction by manual needs. That such classification be determined in consultation with local communities within a 2 km radius of the land for which a classification is proposed.

 (m) the casual factors of the bushfires including an investigation of  decisions, development planning, and the responsibilities of property owners that will reduce bushfire risk and the environmental impact of bushfire management

We are somewhat confused as to why the responsibility of property owners for reducing bushfire risk is considered a casual factor of the bushfire – our feeling is that it is a fundamental factor – “where there is no fuel there is no fire”. These sentiments aside., please refer to our comments

(n) the progress of the joint arson committee

This is a matter about which this Association does not feel competent to comment.

(o) any other relevant matters arising from evidence taken before the committee

During our research in the wake of the January Bushfires this Association came upon a book which we felt was extremely useful as a basis for education. Unfortunately the book is out of print.

Recommendation: That the State Government facilitate the reprinting of The Complete Australian Bushfire Book by Joan Webster as it is an important work in relation to bushfire management.

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