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Rural firies fired up

Eliza Rogers, Tuesday September 24, 2013 - 12:31 EST

Rural fire brigades are on high alert for the next few days, as temperatures soar and vegetation remains tinder dry across the state.

Severe to Extreme Fire Dangers have been issued in the Channel Country, Maranoa and Warrego districts, most of the Darling Downs and Granite Belt, and parts of the Northwest and Central West.

Yet the future of those who protect people and property from fire is still uncertain.

The Rural Fire Brigades Association of Queensland says brigades may have to turn to chook raffles and ham wheels to fund their future.

State executive Marilyn King says many from the bush are unaware they're set to be charged a $90 levy to fund urban services, and that rural brigades could lose a special compensation levy.

On top of this, the RFBAQ is fighting recommendations in the controversial Keelty review into emergency services, which is hot on the heels of the well-received Malone review into rural fire services.

Mrs King has taken to the streets on behalf of Queensland's 34,000 firefighting volunteers that cover 93 per cent of the state.

She says the work they do is valued at about $1.1 billion to the State Government.

However, Mrs King says the future of the firies is on the line.

"The rural fire brigades and the primary producer brigades will have to go back to fundraising... plus, we will be firefighting - we can't do both. The volunteers are extremely concerned about their future - what is in it for us, or do we just shut the door and walk away."

Mrs King says the RFBAQ would consider the levy, set to be implemented early next year, if it's reduced to about $40 a year.

A spokesperson for Police and Community Safety Minister Jack Dempsey defends the new levy, saying it will secure the future of emergency management.

Mr Dempsey's office says the State Government is committed to supporting the Rural Fire Service by supplying uniforms, protective gear, liability insurance, and replacing 25 per cent more Rural Fire vehicles this year.

The levy is not the only issues - reviews commissioned by the LNP government have created tension within the sector.

A review into rural fire services conducted by the LNP's Ted Malone looked at proposed staff cutbacks of more than 50 per cent, and ruled to keep the jobs safe.

More recently, former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty released a review into police and emergency services.

Mrs King says it's proposed closer alignment of police and emergency service boundaries, which she says will swallow up jobs and even stations.

"My district (Bundaberg) would be lumped in with Central, and this is totally unacceptable. We can't run our work from Rockhampton, and we would lose district offices perhaps in Maryborough and perhaps in Bundaberg itself."

Mrs King wants the fire service left out of the Keelty review altogether, saying it should relate only to police, emergency and correctional services, and SES.

But in a blow to the firies, the State Government says it agrees with most of the Keelty review recommendations.


© ABC 2013

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