Is DFES ‘Bushfire Ready’ as High Threat Period nears

The Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Martin Aldridge MLC has raised concerns about the Department of Fire and Emergency Service (DFES) readiness as the southern high-threat fire period approaches.

Mr Aldridge said chronic problems concerning staffing shortages and an ageing operational fleet were now reaching a critical point.

“As we stand on the brink of this year’s high-threat period, DFES remains besieged by crippling staff shortages, especially in crucial roles like mechanical technicians and auto-electricians, which are operating at a mere 50 per cent capacity,” Mr Aldridge said.

“These pivotal positions shoulder the responsibility of maintaining and supporting our fleet of fire trucks, and it’s concerning DFES has not been able to make any headway in staffing these key roles over the past year.”

Mr Aldridge said information provided during Budget Estimates identified 50 vacancies within DFES, several of which have been vacant for over a year.

“Some of these hard to staff roles include a breathing apparatus technician, vacant for more than 600 days, a mechanical technician role vacant more than 470 days, and an auto electrician role vacant for over 380 days.”

Mr Aldridge said the operational fleet replacement program has also gone backwards since 2022.
“Last year I raised concerns that nearly 200 fire trucks exceeded their recommended service life, with dozens of these vehicles over 20 years old,” he said.

“While the Minister for Emergency Services initially downplayed these concerns, Budget Estimates revealed a shocking increase in the number of ageing vehicles in the past year, with over 260 fire trucks currently operating beyond their intended service life.

“This includes 140 light tankers, 53 heavy tankers, and 70 urban pumps, some of which were manufactured before the year 2000.

“This represents around 15 per cent of our primary fire response fleet, raising concerns about the readiness, reliability, and safety of these vehicles for DFES personnel, volunteers, and the communities relying on them during emergencies.”

Mr Aldridge also accused the Government of breaking their promise to deliver 10 new Urban Pumps by Christmas 2022, with just seven of these deployed to date.

“These extensive recruitment delays and fleet replacement setbacks point to significant and ongoing challenges within DFES ahead of what is predicted to be a challenging bushfire season.”

The recently released AFAC Seasonal Bushfire Outlook also paints a grim picture for the coming fire season, warning that warm and dry conditions in southern WA may contribute to higher surface fuel loads and make bushfires more difficult to suppress this season.