‘Lives at risk’: Southeast Qld close to fire disaster



Southeast Queensland exhausted its entire firefighting roster before last summer even began, raising serious questions about staffing levels heading into bushfire season.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Service briefings, leaked to The Courier-Mail, have uncovered serious shortfalls within the state's bushfire response capabilities. 

Despite ongoing reassurance from QFES that it is adequately staffed, the organisation's own internal briefings show otherwise.

The briefings reveal QFES had run out of resources in southeast Queensland to fight bushfires before the end of November.

Resources were stretched so thinly that authorities admitted they may not have been able to cope had one more bushfire or major incident occurred.

It comes after The Courier-Mail revealed last month the state needs at least 350 additional firefighters to cope with the upcoming bushfire season, according to the state's union.

"The QFES SER (South Eastern Region) have exhausted the operational capability involving staff and volunteers who by this stage are becoming significantly fatigued due to continuous work involving a number of simultaneous incidents," one briefing says.

"SER has extremely limited capability to sustain operational activity moving forward without the addition of external resources.

"(We) would have limited resources to sustain another large-scale incident within the region."

The extraordinary admissions were made on November 19 and 26 last year and were signed off on by the Regional Operations Command coordinator.

On those dates, crews were fighting historic bushfires along the border ranges near the Gold Coast and west of Brisbane in the Scenic Rim.

The ordeal occurred during Schoolies Week celebrations, with sources telling The Courier-Mail it was sheer luck that nothing else major happened because QFES would have struggled to attend.


Firefighters work to keep fires away from houses in Dorly St, Lakes Creek, last September.
Firefighters work to keep fires away from houses in Dorly St, Lakes Creek, last September.


"We were out on our feet," a source told The Courier-Mail.

"The firefighters - both professional and volunteer - were exhausted from a long campaign and in particular, in the areas around southeast Queensland, resources were stretched to the point where firefighters' lives were at risk and the community's protection was at stake.

"They needed to pull something out of somewhere because they were concerned about entire communities."

The United Firefighter Union - which holds a 98 per cent membership rate in Queensland - has repeatedly called for the hiring of 350 professional firefighters.

The union believes this number will ensure Queensland is safe from any bushfire threat for the next two years.

Last month, QFES said: "Existing staffing levels are sufficient to maintain an effective fire and emergency service response to the community.

Questioned about that statement yesterday, a QFES spokeswoman said:

"QFES ensured it was able to deploy resources where they were needed most as well as look after the welfare of frontline service staff and volunteers.

"This could only be done because levels of resource demand and fatigue were continually assessed throughout the bushfire season.

"QFES firefighter recruitment processes occur on an ongoing basis."

Originally published as 'Lives at risk': Southeast Qld close to fire disaster