Protest after loss of koala colonies


Wednesday April 9, 2014

GALLERY: Fire safety concerns

By ELLIE-MARIE WATTS

Dec. 17, 2013, 5:53 p.m.
1 of 5

DEBATE: NSWRFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts.

RESIDENTS concerned and angered with fire hazard reduction in Port Stephens took the opportunity to question the Rural Fire Service (RFS) at a public meeting last Wednesday.

NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons attended the meeting at Williamtown Hall, called by Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie following October's bushfires.

Hazard reduction was the focus of the meeting with Cr MacKenzie calling to restructure the RFS, removing "red tape" which had "virtually stopped widespread hazard reductions" and increase the reduction target to 500 per cent.

However, Mr Fitzsimmons and the Lower Hunter RFS manager Jayson McKellar rejected Cr MacKenzie's call for burning off decisions to be returned to brigade captains and said the decision was already in their hands.

"The decision does not come from Sydney," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Emotions ran high as residents shared experiences in coming up against a brick wall or unanswered phones when attempting to clear their property of bushfire hazards.

Mr Fitzsimmons and Mr McKellar took notes as each person spoke, addressing individual concerns ranging from poor service and communication from the RFS to difficulty in obtaining a fire permit.

Anger was also directed at the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) from residents, who said trying to clear fire hazards on its land directly near private property was impossible.

Andrew Bolland, area manager for the NPWS, refuted claims the service never answered its phone, reading out his number for all in attendance to note.

"What I get from a lot of speakers is that we've done nothing anywhere," Mr Bolland said.

"That's not the case.

"We've just been poor in saying where we've done it."

Members of Port Stephens RFS brigades also took the opportunity to refute claims not enough hazard reduction was done in the area and that red tape was stopping them from carrying out the work.

Medowie deputy group captain Lou Cassar questioned which brigades had gone to Cr MacKenzie complaining red tape held them back.

"For my brigade [burns] are not an arduous task," Mr Cassar said.

RFS volunteer Andrew Collins said the regulations Cr MacKenzie had called into question were needed.

"That red tape protects my backside as a volunteer," Mr Collins said.

"I'm more than happy to work within that legislation."

Mr Fitzsimmons said he was glad he attended the meeting.

Cr MacKenzie invited Mr Fitzsimmons back to Port Stephens in the new year to be there when the mayor presents 800 silver medals to members of the RFS, thanking them for their service in battling bushfires during October.

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