News

Blue card requirement for rural fire fighters sparks outrage

James Nason, November 29, 2019

Amid one of the worst rural fire seasons on record, thousands of rural fire brigade volunteers in Queensland are facing disqualification from fighting fires because they don’t have blue cards.

Image: Rural Fire Brigade Association Queensland.

The blue card system is used in Queensland as a prevention and monitoring system to prevent people who have been convicted with crimes against children from working with young people.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services department has told rural fire brigade volunteers that because they could come into contact with children while performing their role, they must have blue cards.

The QFES had originally imposed a deadline of December 31, 2019, for volunteers to have blue cards to enable them to continue to fight fires, but following an angry response from the rural fire community it has granted an extension to March 31, 2020.

The Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland (RFBAQ) has accused the department of badly mishandling the issue, which it warns could result in as many as 75 percent of Queensland’s 22,000 volunteer members of rural truck brigades dropping out of active service.

RFBAQ general manager Justin Choveaux said the issue is the result of Departmental lawyers having a meeting and “interpreting a semi-colon a different way”.

‘From community defenders to threats to society’

“What they have done is they have said the rural fire brigade protects people, property and the environment from bushfire, so if you are protecting people therefore you are a healthcare provider, now we know you are a healthcare provider, you need a blue card,” he said.

“What that meant was a brigade volunteer who was a fantastic person defending their community who we put on a pedestal on a Tuesday, the lawyers had a meeting on a Wednesday and they took the semi-colon a different way for the first time, and then on Thursday that person became a threat to society.

“That is exactly what happened.”

Mr Choveaux said that despite making that determination three years ago the QFES had failed to act on the roll out and was now rushing to force volunteers to apply for blue cards in the final months of the year.

“We spoke internally, we told them it is not going to work, you’re going about it the wrong way, this is something that should be implemented over a number of years,” Mr Choveaux said.

“You wont make children safer by making the community less safe.

“You have decided to do it, lets go about it in a way that actaully works.”

‘Bureaucracy gone mad’

Katter Australia Party MP Shane Knuth told State Parliament this week his office has been bombarded with rural fire volunteers “angry at being treated like criminals”

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Rural fire volunteers in Queensland are already subject to a mandatory criminal check before being accepted as members of their local rural fire brigade.

“A blue card won’t pick up anything that a mandatory criminal check won’t,” Mr Knuth said.

“This is bureaucracy gone mad – rural firies are not healthcare workers, they fight fires”.

QFES: Making Queensland a safe place for children

In a statement the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said it is committed to protecting the community it works with and making Queensland a safe place for children.

“In line with this commitment and following professional advice, QFES commenced screening of relevant staff and volunteers for blue cards in accordance with the requirements of the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000.

“QFES staff and volunteers who need to hold a blue card, but do not currently, are required to apply before 31 March 2020. This includes Fire and Rescue Service (F&RS), State Emergency Service (SES) and Rural Fire Service (RFS) personnel (excluding Primary Producer Brigades and Fire Wardens).”

A spokesperson for Queensland Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Craig Crawford said that as of Monday, 14,481 applications from volunteers for blue cards have already been lodged (across the various services listed above, which includes the SES).

“It’s important to note, the requirements for a volunteer’s ongoing involvement in QFES activities have changed, and it is for the volunteer to decide if they want to continue serving their local communities under these changed requirements,” the spokesperson said.

In its statement to Beef Central the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) said it “makes no apologies for taking every step to ensure Queensland is a safe place for children”:

“QFES firmly believes both its paid and volunteer workforce should reflect the standards expected by the community it serves. It believes Queenslanders have a right to expect their most vulnerable – children – will be protected.

“A large percentage of QFES personnel, staff and volunteers, may come into contact with children, either directly or indirectly, as part of their role with QFES and therefore require a blue card. While this requirement is categorised under the banner of providing a health, counselling or support service under the Working With Children (Risk and Management Screening) Act 2000, it does not relate to first aid courses or qualifications. It relates to situations where personnel are required to protect, reduce potential danger to or help injured people – all core functions of fire and emergency services personnel. 

“QFES would like to assure the Queensland community that claims SES volunteer numbers have dropped from 33,000 to 5,000 are misleading and untrue. QFES currently has a paid and volunteer workforce of approximately 33,000 Rural Fire Service volunteers, 5,300 State Emergency Service volunteers, 2,200 permanent and 2,000 auxiliary Fire and Rescue Service personnel.

“Currently, approximately 25 per cent of QFES personnel required to apply for a blue card have submitted their application. QFES is taking proactive steps, including face-to-face engagement, to support its staff and volunteers in making an application for a blue card.

“As part of QFES’ commitment to ensuring its workforce is blue card compliant, volunteers will be required to demonstrate their commitment to continuing with the organisation by completing a valid blue card application form prior to having new uniform requests processed. This does not include Personal Protective Equipment.

“QFES takes the safety of children extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring its people, policies and procedures prioritise the safety of Queensland children.”

The 33,000 Rural Fire Service volunteers include around 22,000 members of rural fire truck brigades and about 11,000 non-truck brigades, which includes Primary Producer Brigades (PPB) in the state. At present PPBs do not require blue cards under the changed rules.

Mr Choveaux told Beef Central this week that 75 percent of the 22,000 rural fire truck brigade members have not yet applied for Blue Cards.

Affected volunteers included “lawyers, doctors, truck drivers, stop-go people, primary producers, it is everybody”, he said.

‘The true hazard of this’

He feared the issue will lead to a regression in the State’s rural fire fighting capability.

“What they are saying now is if you have a fire on April 1 (2020) and your brigade has 15 members and only 7 have a blue card, those 7 will be able to get onto the truck and will be able to fight the fire, and the other 8 members will not allowed to be on the truck, will not able to wear PPE and will not be able to fight the fire supported by the fire service and workers compensation.

“This is the true hazard of this.

“We will go back to a situation of the pre rural fire brigade days where we are in an ad hoc and haphazard manner trying to defend our communities.”

Mr Choveaux said no other volunteer fire service in the country is currently required to have to have the equivalent of blue cards.

He said members of rural fire brigades have to undergo criminal history checks which focus on assault, fraud and arson, and suggested that be made broader to cover any crimes against a child that would be covered under a blue card.

That would provide the same level of protection of a blue card, without the significant institutional costs from volunteers having to renew blue cards them every three years, given rural fire brigades already lack adequate support staff and would struggle to to administer that requirement.

He said the QFES had gone about the roll out “in completely the wrong way”.

“We said it should have been two to three stage roll out, you shouldn’t have let it be run by people who said ‘do it, and if you don’t do it I will say do it again, or then I will threaten you by not giving you a uniform – gee, didn’t that put everybody off.

“The QFES has gone about in completely the wrong way because the QFES has no empathy for volunteers and it has no understanding of volunteers – everybody who is in charge of QFES is from a non volunteer background, they all come from fire and rescue.”

 

 

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Comments

  1. Ronald Belford, May 1, 2020

    Having been a warden for the last 15 years I find this is an insult to my character to have to obtain a blue card as I live on a property.

  2. Steve Barlow, February 17, 2020

    It was interesting to read the comments of others who have the same opinion as I. As a rural volunteer fire fighter for 17years, I will not be going down the road of applying for a blue card. In those 17 years I have never been in a situation of having to deal with a Minor alone. I have always been accompanied by a partner. QFES, our brigade does not condone entering Fire Grounds alone. I am also sure once I am fired from the Rurals, and heaven forbids if I come across a child in danger of dying, either by drowning or some other tragic circumstance, I will provide assistance without a blue card, and if I didn’t I would be held culpable by the same public servants creating this idiocy.
    The crazy part about the whole system, QFES bureaucrats can do a search on their members and find out all about them without forcing them to fill out the paper work. I cannot understand why a police search cannot identify a pedophile from their existing records. Teachers are not require to hold a blue card, what a joke!
    How many teachers in Queensland have found to be pedophiles compared with Rural Fire Fighters. At 71 years of age with 4 grand children I find this blue card situation and the threats forwarded by the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner in the QFES newsletters insulting.
    What comes next will Rurals be required to join a union?

  3. Graeme Trewavis, February 11, 2020

    Typical government gone mad in all my time with Queensland rural Fire Service I have never come in contact with children.
    How long before it becomes compulsory to hold a blue card as a grand parent? Maybe all new couples before they decide to have children should hold a blue card as most abuse occurs in the family home. I will be handing back my membership if nothing else changes as I feel strongly about this issue.
    I feel the government needs a good boot up the behind on this issue.
    Cheers Graeme

  4. Gordon Harris, February 3, 2020

    This is typical of governments departments since they have been politicised – Lack of common sense and empire-building for the bureaucrats – it’s a Trumpian view of how we should all be as they want to control – bet your bottom dollar that the bureaucrats or pollies won’t be on the fire line when the fire comes through – every sad state of affairs for the people of Queensland – thank good my days in the rural fire brigade have finished

  5. Pamela Temle, February 2, 2020

    I for one am OUTRAGED that our firefighters will be required to hold a Blue Card and I want answers to these questions: members of our armed forces are helping with recovery. Are they required to hold Blue Cards? If not, why not? And the fire fighters who have come to Australia to assist us – are they required to hold Blue Cards? If not, why not ? After all, their applications would need to be checked by overseas authorities, so there would be no likelihood of any so-called ‘fast tracking’.

  6. I have been a rural fire member for many years but sadly I have to resign as I am unable to get a blue card because of a stupid indiscretion that happened when I was 13 years old that was in 1965. I have served in the Australian Army with war service in Vietnam they didnt want me to get a blue card to go to war. I haven’t had any criminal prosecution against me in all these years. I have raised 4 daughter’s have 14 grandchildren 3 great grandchildren and been married 46 years. I guess I am just not needed any more.

  7. Karen Kerin, January 10, 2020

    This is just revenue raising. Typical government skimming money from those who do the right thing, yet leave the real criminals like ministers who abuse rate payers money, alone. Disgraceful.

  8. Richard, January 9, 2020

    I am A NSW RFS member and we have to do this before we join a brigade and you are not to go anywhere near the RFS until it has been been checked and passed 100%. I am all for it we are taking about the protection of children and as we have seen these type of people who hurt children will go to huge efforts to gain access to children. Guys just think of it as helping the children of your state / community and that should be just another thing to walk tall about helping protect out communities in whatever way we can. Just think of the anger we feel when one of us is charged with arson, it a kick in the no fly zone. Now just think if one of us hurt a child . That should be enough. Richard – NSWRFS 1993 – ???? lol

    • Lindsay, January 10, 2020

      You have to be kidding. Do you take charge of children when fighting fires, do you spend hours with them in your care orare you left alone with them?
      Richard this is slow creeping surveillance. Question where do the vast majority ofkidsget abused? Answer in the home. Yes institutions that cared for children did and may this in some places. That is where this card is needed.
      I ring 90 odd isolated elderly people in the morning to check that they are ok and am compelled to have the (NT) ochre card. What a ridiculous waste of resources, time and use of volunteers. And what a terrible portend it is for our open and free society.

  9. Max Caesar, December 21, 2019

    As a past rural fire fighter – I can’t believe how ridiculous this rule is! Have any of the lawyers fought a fire in the Bush? What happens when volunteer firefighters come from NSW, NZ or California in the time honoured help your mates arrangements? Will they be turned around and sent back?
    Beaurocrsy is destroying Australia.
    What if a firefighter has the chance of saving a family from a house in danger – will he be arrested?
    Time for enough for a politician with guts to bring the bureaucrats into line!

  10. Steven Cochrane, December 19, 2019

    This is the tipping point for a massive change that is in the wind. Not only are members dropping out across every branch in Queensland, no new members are applying either. The vibe amongst many SES volunteers presently is if they have to pay for a blue card just for the right to risk their life in front of fire for the community then it is time they were paid by the hour including danger money to WORK for the SES. I for one just went to my last meeting and won’t be returning even if they did offer to pay me. This is because they only supply a maximum P2 level mask and for someone with a beard like me it is a death sentence. SES workers now need to be paid by the hour and supplied adequate OHS equipment to work in the environment of a standard that is safe which P2 masks are not. So that is pretty much the end of the SES as this article points out and they will need to scrap something like the Job Network Provider scheme and use that money to pay fire fighters instead. This will be a good outcome for all volunteers and you might even be able to use some of the work for the dole applicants in fire fighting roles so they can earn a wage. After all, the fires are set to be a full time summer job from now on; not just the odd day here or there.

  11. What a kick in the guts for VOLUNTEERS and small communities guilty until they comply

  12. Who is paying the application fee? Surely not the firies? And why arnt all Qld teachers required to have them including those already in the system when blue cards were introduced?

  13. Robin Steen, November 30, 2019

    Bureaucracy gone mad.
    Similar case of too much control with no decision makers in SA on the Eyre Peninsular 8/10 years ago.
    “A hot exhaust on a roadside started a fire ,an Ag plane full of water that could have extinguished the fire was not allowed to do that because he wasn’t licensed to fight a fire.
    RESULT massive fire across southern Eyre Peninsula with 9 dead.
    There were 3 inquests with out any findings.

    Australia was aCountry that made quick decisions and was rewarded with great results.
    It has been known that district fire trucks drive the opposite way from the fire to go in convoy to it. To me getting a fire truck directly to any fire would make a lot more sense than letting it get out of control before you arrive.

    With the volunteers gone, it will be a case of too many chiefs and no Indians.

  14. Paul Franks, November 29, 2019

    I suppose it will also mean no on ground assistance will be able to come from other states or overseas as those people will not have blue cards either. As well neither will a brigade officer be able to take on offered assistance by an individual. Also I imagine you will have to show your blue card to a figure of authority prior to fighting the fire otherwise they will not know you have one.

    No longer does anything surprise me when it comes to people with little practical knowledge making rules for the people that do the work.

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