Vic fire services need overhaul: Lapsley

A restructure of Victoria’s fire services is imperative, says an emergency management chief, who insists current arrangements are the worst in the country.


Craig Lapsley was strident in his belief the state’s fire services need reform in his submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking at controversial changes.

The commissioner of Emergency Management Victoria on Tuesday said it was time for a change as the Andrews government pushes to make the Country Fire Authority volunteer-only and merge paid firefighters with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to create Fire Rescue Victoria.

“It’s time for change and my heart comes out of the CFA because I came up in the CFA,” Mr Lapsley said.

“Victorian fire services as they are currently structured are the worst Australia.”

Mr Lapsley also says he believes Victoria needs just one fire service, but acknowledged that would not be politically possible.

MFB acting chief officer Paul Stacchino said he too thought one fire service would be best, but the model put forward could work.

However he also warned against transferring current CFA workplace agreements to the new FRV because that would continue existing industrial issues.

CFA chief officer Steve Warrington told the inquiry there was merit in making the service volunteer-only to give it autonomy.

“The CFA is essentially a volunteer organisation. That’s the strength we bring to the table,” he said.

He wants sector-wide reform to streamline recruiting and uniformity in equipment.

But Jack Rush QC, who helped in the Black Saturday bushfires royal commission, slammed dismantling of the “world class” CFA to “achieve some sort of industrial outcome.”

“It cannot possibly be and should not be dressed up as in the interests of emergency services,” he told the inquiry.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he did not agree with Mr Rush’s conclusions.

“Anyone who thinks that a fire service that was devised back in 1958 is fit for purpose in 2017, I would respectfully say that’s wrong,” he told reporters.

The royal commission into the 2009 deadly bushfires heard from three world experts on organisational change.

Mr Rush said they each indicated incremental change often provided better results than radical change, which was what the government wanted to do.

The government insists reform is needed to improve safety and break the CFA pay dispute impasse that has seen a minister resign, fire board sacked and the federal government intervene.

Tuesday was the last day of scheduled public hearings and a report will be prepared for when parliament returns on August 8.