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Are American Fire Fighters Wanted in Australia?

I was driving to work today and on the radio the commentator was taking phone calls about what people thought about Americans and other foreign fire fighters being paid to come to Australia and to help fight the bushfires.  A number of Aussies called in were upset that the government was paying foreign firefighters to come to Australia when they wouldn’t pay volunteer firefighters in Australia.  Apparently there is a number of volunteer firefighters in Australia that cannot afford to take the extended time off to fight the fires due to the need to maintain their day jobs.  Some of the callers said that if the government compensated them for missing work then they would be willing to fight the fires and the foreigners would not be needed. 

Low and behold I pick up the Age newspaper and what do I see the same complaints in the Age as well:

International firefighters are being paid $600 a day to fight bushfires ravaging the state as overworked volunteer crews pay their own way, the firefighters’ union says.  United Firefighters Union (UFU) state secretary Peter Marshall said he was "gobsmacked" to receive a leaked document showing government firefighting agencies were paying international crews to aid local workers.

Dozens of professional firefighters from the United States, Canada and New Zealand have bolstered the attack against Victoria’s bushfires since they erupted almost two months ago.  The leaked document, from the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) to members of the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC), shows these firefighters are being paid $600 a day, on top of having their flights and accommodation paid for.

Mr Marshall said in contrast, CFA volunteers were sacrificing pay and footing their own bills to help protect Victorians.  In addition, more than 800 off-duty paid Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB)and CFA firefighters were sitting idle waiting to be called on, he said.

"Until we got this document, I was always under the impression, and indeed the public would be of a similar view, that this was a goodwill gesture of people coming over to assist; it’s not," he said.  "We say this is absolutely scandalous, continually calling on the goodwill of volunteers, yet there’s an underhanded deal being done that was not publicly disclosed.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with importing expertise … however … before going overseas and paying extra money to personnel from overseas, use your resources here in Victoria."  Mr Marshall renewed calls for a retained firefighters scheme, under which a proportion of voluntary firefighters are compensated at an award rate for training and firefighting.

CFA chief Neil Bibby said it had been made clear that overseas firefighters were being paid and, conversely, Australians who assisted firefighting efforts overseas were paid for their work.  He also said CFA volunteers continually said they did not want any money for protecting the community.

Make sure you read the rest of the article, but the way I’m interpreting this is that the Victorian government has decided to bring in professional foreign firefighters to aid the professional Australian firefighters to put these bushfires out once and for all.  The added help from the volunteer firefighters hasn’t been enough to put the fires out and the way the government is looking at it is that paying the volunteer firefighters isn’t going to help put the fires out any sooner than when they weren’t paying them.  I think the important word to remember here is volunteer.  In my opinion when you volunteer you shouldn’t expect to get paid.  If you want to get paid to fight bushfires than sign up and qualify to become a professional firefighter. 

The government has also said that they will not use the Melbourne firefighters to fight bushfires because they are not trained to fight and those firefighters and are needed in the city in case a fire breaks out there.  That left the Victorian government to turn to foreign firefighters.  Yes they are getting paid very well, but as the Victorian government pointed out when Australian firefighters go overseas they get paid just as much.

In fact when I was living in Arizona a few years ago Australian firefighters were deployed there to help the US firefighters battle a giant blaze there.  Everyone was extremely appreciative of their help and no one questioned if they were paid to much.  If Australians don’t want help from foreign firefighters than demand your government hire a larger standing professional force.  I willing to bet the government doesn’t want to do that because it would cost much more to pay and maintain a larger standing force every year when massive bushfires like Victoria has seen this year is a once in decade event.  It is cheaper for the government to maintain a smaller force augmented by volunteers and then if a once a decade blaze occurs they can bring in foreign help.

Just listening to people on the radio and then reading about it in the paper the complaints to me were beginning to take an almost xenophobic tone.  It’s too bad that people are spending more time on this issue than focusing on getting these fires put out; than they wouldn’t need the foreign firefighers in the first place.

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