Rural Fire Service brigades on the frontline at Yeppoon. Picture: Kunwarara Rural Fire.
Rural Fire Service brigades on the frontline at Yeppoon. Picture: Kunwarara Rural Fire.

No holiday at the frontline of a disaster

LIFE on the edge of a catastrophic fire front is not everyone’s idea of a holiday, but for the majority of volunteer rural firefighters, days spent battling blazes cut into their annual leave.

Rural Fire Service Mackay Inspector Michael Koch said businesses losing their employees, sometimes for days on end, was a sacrifice they made in the community’s time of need.

During the horrific fires last November, Mr Koch said, businesses across the region gave their employees time off to put on their yellow jackets and join the rural brigades.

One cane grower, Mr Koch said, paid three of his employees to join him on the Carmila fire. But this arrangement was rare.

Typically RFS members would negotiate with their employer an arrangement for their volunteer service, often sacrificing vacation days to join the fight.

“Some years they might not be required to go away – but this year they’re certainly been challenged,” Mr Koch said.

After talking to rural crews from Alton Downs, near Rockhampton, Mirani MP Stephen Andrew has proposed that volunteer firefighters be compensated for their service.

While fighting some of the worst blazes at Yeppoon, Mr Andrew said, some fireys were burning holes through their wallets to be there.

Mirani MP Stephen Andrew has proposed that volunteer firefighters should be compensated for their service.
Mirani MP Stephen Andrew has proposed that volunteer firefighters should be compensated for their service.

“There was a young fella that was left not having any pay for three days,” Mr Andrew said.

He said the young firefighter had arranged for three days of paid volunteering with his employer, a large multinational business.

But after seven days on the frontline, Mr Andrew said, the young man was $600 out of pocket.

Mr Andrew said like jury duty, the volunteers should be compensated for their time.

“These guys go out and give their all to make sure the community is safe,” he said.