Calliope Rural Fire Service first officer Keith Hill.
Calliope Rural Fire Service first officer Keith Hill. Mike Richards

Volunteer firies prepared to walk away over changes

THE region's 1773 unpaid firies want the government to rethink a proposed amendment to the Workers' Compensation Act that requires them to attend 150 events - such as fires or floods - over five years before they are eligible for compensation for dormant or hidden disease.

The amendment was introduced to parliament last month and says paid firefighters must attend at least one event in a minimum qualifying period to be eligible.

However, the government says the proposed eligibility criteria for paid firefighters does not relate to event attendance, but that it is a time measure.

The volunteer firefighters believe the amendment is discriminatory.

"We will present the keys to the trucks to (the urban crews) and they can look after them" - and the more than 600 properties the Calliope brigade protects.

That's the attitude from first officer Keith Hill who has fought alongside urban and auxiliary crews. He is insulted; he's not alone, and he says the government sees them as second class citizens.

He admitted the risk of illness was not great, but can't understand why the smoke that volunteers are breathing is considered different from that of paid crews.

"They have canister masks at least or breathing apparatus and we have paper smoke masks."

His submission to parliament in protest of the proposed legislation highlights six issues.

They include the lack of official records kept by brigades, the loss of volunteers should the legislation pass and the lack of research to indicate that "the first fire one attends is not dangerous to one's health".

Mount Maurice deputy fire warden Bruce Mackay has been volunteering for 20 years and said in his earlier days he would have fought 150 fires in three months.

But now he's nearing retirement from the volunteer brigade and says he has no records of any job he has attended other than official communications through the Rockhampton fire communications centre.

"As fire brigades we don't have to keep records," Mr Mackay said. "If this comes in that's definitely something that will have to change.

"That will make administration of rural fire brigades a bit more difficult because we're all volunteers. It's not like anyone gets paid."



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