A message from the Emergency Management Commissioner about supporting our firefighters

7 March 2019

The Victorian community and our emergency management personnel have faced tough conditions over the last few days, weeks and months.  From 1 March to 5 March, we have experienced 380 fires, with the majority resulting from lightning strikes.

Fire and emergency services have been working around the clock on these fires including the significant fires at Bunyip, Licola, Dargo and Yinnar South.

The fires have impacted Victorian communities, there have been property losses and that will be devastating for those community members. We continue to do everything we can to support communities and our people during this time.

Managing so many fires across the state has truly been a team effort and I have seen first-hand the camaraderie between agencies, brigades, teams, colleagues and friends.

More than 2,000 emergency personnel, including firefighters from CFA, FFMVic, MFB, as well as taskforces from NSW and SA, have been working together to protect lives and property.

As well as people, we have trucks, aircraft and other equipment from our interstate colleagues, reaffirming the strong relationships that Victoria has with its neighbours.

As my colleagues CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington and FFMVic Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman have said all week, we will, and are, doing everything we can to keep our communities and our people safe.

The reality is we can’t have a firetruck on everyone’s doorstep nor is that realistic when it comes to priority tasking and the safety of firefighters. We are not going to send firefighters into potentially life threatening circumstances.

Decisions about firefighting are made for a number of reasons; for the safety of our people we may not be able to go down a particular road or into an area when a fire is moving erratically. When fire behaviour is bad, crews may be instructed to protect assets only, which means we ask our firefighters to only protect properties that they think are defendable and not to fight the main fire front.

We know Victorians appreciate the work the sector does. We have had so much positive support and feedback from impacted communities, as well as the people of Victoria more broadly.

I want to reinforce how much work goes into every aspect of managing significant and ferocious bushfires. Beyond the frontline, there are hundreds of high skilled and committed people who work tirelessly to support the efforts of our crews on the ground and in the air.

Victorian agencies work with local communities throughout the year, but particularly in the lead up to the summer fire season, on preparedness. Bushfire preparedness is truly a shared responsibility.

We are better prepared than we have ever been before however we will always rely on the community to do their part as community safety is a shared responsibility.

Many of our significant fires started on or after 1 March and are examples of fires outside the traditional period for Victoria. Fires in East Gippsland in August last year and the south west fires in March are others. Our current fires highlight not just the challenges we are facing this season, but serve as a reminder about what we can expect from future fire seasons. It will be more important than ever that the emergency management sector continues to work in partnership with communities.

Victorians need to keep informed and be ready to act if they need to and for the most part, they have and for that, we thank them.

But it’s not over yet and none of us can afford to become complacent, whether that is those of us who work in the sector, or our communities.

Our sector remains absolutely committed to ensuring we do everything possible to keep Victorians safe.  

Thank you to everyone for their efforts so far, and the effort still to come.

Take care.