Thursday 3 June 2004 - Estimates Committee A (Llewellyn) - Part 2

Fire Service

CHAIR - Minister, do you wish to say anything about the State Fire Commission before we move on.

Mr LLEWELLYN - No, I do not have anything prepared other than to say that they do a wonderful job and we could not do without them. They rely on a very large volunteer work force as well, particularly rural and country volunteers. The permanent brigade also are vitally important to us. They have been working through a program to try to deal with their resources now for some time - vehicle police and all those things. But I am sure you want to ask me questions about all of those things so I leave it for the questions.

CHAIR - We will move over to our most inflammable member, Mr Finch.

Mr LLEWELLYN - Are you going to self-combust?

Mr FINCH - You hope. We mostly have praise for the State Fire Commission, but in looking for areas of concern I just find it a little perplexing thinking about the times we are moving into, particularly with the threat of attacks and the need to be on our guard throughout the State in respect of that. There have been three deaths recently through fires and the potential is always there that we have a reduction in the State Fire Commission. I know that the SES has been a beneficiary of funds this year but it seems to me to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Can I have your thoughts on that, Minister?

Mr LLEWELLYN - As you know, the Fire Service's revenue is made up of a series of different buckets of money. Fire prevention charges, $3.1 million; motor levies, $4.1 million; the State Government contribution for the coming year is $3.1 million; insurance levy, $14.2 million; sundry income that comes in through the sale of assets et cetera, $1.7 million; and landowners' contribution, $20.9 million. That all adds up this year from a taxation point of view to $39.2 million which ends up - all the tax component of that - on page 559 of budget paper 2, volume 2.

The total budget is $47.065 million which, from a taxation point of view, is a 7.9 per cent increase and an overall increase of 7.2 per cent on last year. So I do not think that the fire service are bereft of funding. While the insurance levy aspect could be seen as a bit of a windfall, it is a fact of life that insurance premiums have risen quite considerably. The Legislative Council some years ago were kind enough to put the levy as a percentage of that component so as the insurance premiums rise, the income rises as well. I have been assured by the commission that they have enough resources to continue their programs and so on. I recently put out a press release about the refurbishment program and the 50 units that need to be refurbished this year, which will continue in the way it was envisaged. Obviously there is a bit of an unknown in the budget in the sense that this is the EBA year for the Fire Service for the career firefighters, so the enterprise bargaining agreement has not been resolved yet. The commission have put into their budget a certain amount of money to cover from a forward point of view that pay increase that may be there but if it is in excess of what they have put aside then they may well have to come back to government and talk to government about supplementation or whatever.

What we are trying to do is continue the program that they have to replace vehicles and so on. As I told some volunteer firefighters the other day, the bottom line is the commission has enough money to proceed with their program and obviously cover the salary costs and so on after the EBA in order to maintain the direction that they are going. So that is my response to that.

Mr FINCH - Tell me about the program of upgrading the vehicles. Is that current vehicles that are going to be upgraded? How does that work? What is the program about?

Mr LLEWELLYN - At the moment we have a corporate plan with me being the portfolio minister and the Treasurer being the stakeholder minister for the commission. The corporate plan is in the process of being signed off, which is our vision into the future, part of which I guess is the commission's strategic asset management program of how they are going to deal with their resources and so on over a period of time.

I have a copy here of how we are expecting to do that. They are concentrating on trying to eliminate the areas that are in red there, which indicate vehicles over 20 years of age, and upgrading, through their own building program and through acquisitions, as many of those vehicles over a period of time. It is not indicating here exactly the time frame associated with it but, for instance, from a fleet point of view, the average cost of light tankers is some $60 000 each and the average number that they have is 130. In medium-sized tankers, the average cost is $100 000 and they have 98 of those. In the heavy units, the average cost is $215 000 and they have 141 of those so in asset terms it means that in the light fleet there is $7.8 million; medium, $9.8 million; and $30.3 million worth of assets and equipment. A total of 50 light tankers will be bought in 2004-05 by the fabrication section of the engineering services at a cost of $2.9 million.

In addition, a heavy pumper as well as the refurbishment of an aerial appliance at an all-up cost of $1.2 million is planned. Funds of $1 million will be allocated to passenger vehicle replacement. In 2005-06 it is planned to fabricate 30 medium tankers at a cost of $2.9 million again, plus four light tankers at $240 000 total, and the purchase of the heavy pumper, $0.5 million. Funds of $1.2 million will be allocated for the passenger vehicle replacements. In 2006-07 - so this is three years out - there is a plan to fabricate 15 multipurpose pumper tankers and purchase a heavy pumper at $0.5 million, and funds of $1.2 million again have been allocated for passenger vehicle replacements - they are the light vehicle replacements as well.

That is the program and I guess it is my task, and your task to make sure what my task is, to try to maintain that program into the future and have enough resources and funds to do that.

Mr FINCH - I am assuming from that graph that you showed us that the ones in red are the ones that need to go from the system, they need to be replaced. Is that what the intention is, that they will go and be replaced?


Mr FINCH - What is the time line for that? How many vehicles are in that area?

Mr LLEWELLYN - There are 83 vehicles between 21 and 25 years, 78 between 26 and 30 years, and 24 over 31 years of age. They are specialised vehicles. With the Fire Service, as you know, there are often not a lot of hours on a lot of these vehicles, but the age does factor in. And the other thing that is of concern is occupational health and safety standards associated with vehicles, because some of the vehicles are moving outside the standards that are appropriate and have to be replaced on that sort of basis. But you can add up, just looking at the light tankers, 54 light tankers over the next three years, 30 medium tankers and 15 multipurpose tankers.

Mr FINCH - Are they in the category that you are talking about, in the red?

Mr LLEWELLYN - Yes, they will replace things that are in that category. John can probably tell you a bit more about that.

Mr GLEDHILL - There are some 185 vehicles at the moment over 20 years of age, which are the red ones. They are the ones that have been targeted. We do not replace them purely on age grounds. It is really on serviceability and some safety issues. Safety very much is the main driver. But this year we are planning 50 new light ones. We have found huge economies of scale by building - as Henry Ford did - the same type of vehicle on an assembly line. So there are 50 planned this year of the small type. Next year we are moving into a larger one, and progressively over the next five years we hope to really make a dent in those old ones. What needs to be appreciated is that what is not in red now, in five years' time will be - it is marching on, it is a constant issue, and even with this fairly aggressive program that we have planned we are looking at 20 years to get the fleet replaced on an ongoing basis.

Mr FINCH - Has the amount that will be spent within the next 12 months been quantified?

Mr LLEWELLYN - I just mentioned all that. Over the next three years, for instance -

Mr FINCH - No, the next 12 months.

Mr LLEWELLYN - Yes, well the next 12 months was $2.9 million in addition for the 50 light tankers, and then $1.2 million for a heavy pumper and refurbishing the aerial appliance, and funds of $1 million to be allocated to passenger vehicle replacement. So that is $5.1 million.

Mr FINCH - If I could come to that aerial appliance, could you just tell me about that, please? That is a rented one, is it not?


Mr GLEDHILL - It is one of the ones from the north-west coast. For the past two years we have returned them to the UK to actually have a new cab chassis put under them and a total refurbishment and strip down. This is the last one. These are the hydraulic platforms, the snorkel units.

Mr FINCH - And that is owned by the Fire Service?


Mr LLEWELLYN - All of them are. It is the most economical way to do it by far. John or Mike could tell you what the actual saving is in doing it this way. They completely recondition all the hydraulics and so on in the snorkel units, the ladder units and so on, and they then jack up a new vehicle under the arrangement. I had a ride on one of them just a little while ago - very comfortable.

CHAIR - The units that you build at Cambridge, I remember seeing the opening on television.

Mr LLEWELLYN - It would be good for the Legislative Council to go out and have a little look.

CHAIR - To go and visit. It would, Minister, thank you.

Mrs JAMIESON - Oh, I would love to.

CHAIR - We will accept your invitation to look one day.

Are the units that are being built fully ready to go when they leave, with all the equipment on that is needed, or are you transferring some old equipment?

[2.15 p.m.]
Mr GLEDHILL - They do not come fully equipped. We generally find we can transfer a lot of equipment over from the existing unit. Some of it is new; it really depends from place to place how much we would need to replace new and how much can be just transferred.

Mr LLEWELLYN - We have to be careful because we can be accused by north-west catamaran and Incat of actually taking work off them with the work they do out there with aluminium welding and all that sort of stuff.

CHAIR - The question I ask, then, is there would be some instances where one size will not fit all. You can get into rural areas where the water pressure is a lot different to, say, in the more urban areas, and so on. Is all that taken into consideration when you are looking at what you put on vehicles?

Mr GLEDHILL - Absolutely. A different kit goes on for one that is primarily for protecting a township compared to one that primarily operates fighting bushfires in remote areas. There is a different level of equipment and there is even a different sized capacity pump when we need greater pumping capacity in metropolitan areas.

CHAIR - So you are building similar units out there and getting economies of scale, but then you are specialising into wherever they might be being taken.

Mr GLEDHILL - There are two large types, the medium and the heavy. We have a two?tier arrangement. They are essentially the same but some come with additional accessories. They are the ones that go into the metropolitan areas.

CHAIR - So what do we do with the old stock?

Mr GLEDHILL - They are disposed of as something that is 30 years old. Eventually the farming community are quite eager to grab them for farm use, fire protection. Some of them end up as wood trucks, but really they have reached the end of their useful life, certainly as a fire engine. By the time we are disposing of them, they are really well and truly past their best.

CHAIR - So when you make a decision that you will replace a vehicle in a particular area in the volunteer area, what is the process? Does somebody talk in that volunteer area and involve the volunteers in that area specifically with their unit so they have some input into what they are getting?

Mr LLEWELLYN - I visited a local fire station, the last of which was at Bruny Island. They were telling me how pleased they were with their new appliance and how they had such an input into developing it and getting the right pieces of equipment on it, and so on, and how it was a little bit wrong at one stage, but they got it sorted out, and that sort of stuff.

CHAIR - Okay. I asked the question because I asked the question of the local fire services, and they are exceptionally happy with what they have and the requests they make are acceded to. But I got the impression in some other areas there was a bit of concern about whether or not the old machine was being replaced with something that confidently they could believe would fulfil the duties they expect it to.

Mr GLEDHILL - There is a general concern, because of the unavailability of four?wheel drive truck chassis, that we have reduced the capacity of some of the water tanks. There is a concern, but to counter that, we are working a lot more cooperatively now. We have despatched two brigades to a fire, so there is a two?brigade response, so there is usually more than enough water there. But I guess it is a slight change in philosophy and there is some reluctance but I think most of the reticence disappears pretty quickly once they get one of the new trucks.

CHAIR - I accept that. In the suburbs, you can send two in. What do you do in the rural areas?

Mr GLEDHILL - The same. Certainly we have what we call a summer hot-day response, and that now entails automatically two brigades responding to the one call during the summertime. It does not matter where it is, that is what happens.

CHAIR - So if you had a fire at Sprent, you would have Sprent and Gunns Plains brigades coming to it.

Mr GLEDHILL - That is right.

CHAIR - There used to be a policy that a brigade could not leave town, and leave it unserviced, to go to a fire in the country. Is that still policy or not?

Mr GLEDHILL - No, but I think we are very mindful of ensuring that we do have coverage. I guess we have a philosophy to go to the fire that is, not the one that might be. There is a risk management assessment done, and it really depends on the prevailing conditions as to how unprotected we are. We do not have those very rigid prescriptive ways of doing business.

CHAIR - I think it is fair to say we have had some absolutely tragic fires this year. The Government and the Fire Service have reacted very quickly. I notice the advertisements on the television et cetera about clothing being too close to fires. What is the budget for that sort of community education, Minister, and how long can we expect that to follow through?

Mr LLEWELLYN - There is a bit of a shared budget in one respect from the other part of the department, from Health, together with the Fire Service on a new campaign that we have started but Mike will be able to tell us what the total is.

Mr PLAISTER - I do not actually have that information. Community fire safety covers a range of areas so I would need to take that on notice.

CHAIR - Perhaps if you could, yes. I think it is important that people understand two things, that when they see the ads, it is also costing money to remind them. It is important that we know what sort of money we are putting into education processes that maybe we could be putting into other areas. Nobody is disputing it going there and people are talking in the community about the actual program and understanding why it is happening so that is pleasing to see.