Tathra residents Jenny and son Jerome Jory sift through ashes after the destructive March bushfires. A bitter debate between the state’s two firefighting agencies prompted the review.
Tathra residents Jenny and son Jerome Jory sift through ashes after the destructive March bushfires. A bitter debate between the state’s two firefighting agencies prompted the review.

Feuding fireys must end heated turf war

FEUDING fireys are so busy criticising each other over the massive Tathra blaze that they have "overlooked" their common­ enemy - fire.

Animosity between Fire and Rescue NSW and the Rural Fire Service was "at times palpable", a scathing independent report, ordered in the wake of the March fire that razed 65 homes, has found.

The report exposes the "deplorable­" behaviour between the two state agencies and "significant animosity at the middle management level".

 

This Daily Telegraph front page described problems between the two agencies.
This Daily Telegraph front page described problems between the two agencies.

 

The Daily Telegraph published details of the fraught relationship.
The Daily Telegraph published details of the fraught relationship.

The Keelty Review, led by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty, called for urgent reform to fix the way emergency calls are handled.

RFS admitted it was "flying blind" with FRNSW taking all emergency calls and relaying information to RFS.

Flames engulf homes and yards in Tathra in march. Picture: Twitter /Jessie Collins
Flames engulf homes and yards in Tathra in march. Picture: Twitter /Jessie Collins
Fire guts a home in the coastal town. Picture: Twitter /Jessie Collins
Fire guts a home in the coastal town. Picture: Twitter /Jessie Collins

Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant last night vowed to support all 12 review recommendations, including a "single, consolidated and civilianised­" call and dispatch centre to ensure the agencies work side by side.

The fire approached suddenly, surrounding the town. Picture: Facebook/Gordon Warnock
The fire approached suddenly, surrounding the town. Picture: Facebook/Gordon Warnock

The Daily Telegraph revealed the turf war between the departments, with RFS knocking back two offers from FRNSW to send brigades to fight the fire that tore through the Bega Valley and devastated the small coastal community.

The review also confirmed FRNSW staff had compiled an explosive dossier claiming RFS failed to respond appropriately to some 110 fires.

"To bring the animosity forward­ in the hours following people losing their homes and life possessions is deplorable," Mr Keelty said in the report.

He also shut down suggestions of combining the two agencies into one, claiming this was "implausible" under current workplace culture.

"It seems that the common enemy of fires is sometimes overlooked through the distraction of finding fault with each other," Mr Keelty said.

Mick Keelty.
Mick Keelty.
Troy Grant.
Troy Grant.

However, the review found the decision to refuse FRNSW support had "no impact on the outcome" due to the severity and speed of the fire.

"Notwithstanding this, other submissions ... have suggested­ that such offers are routinely declined, sometimes in less clear-cut circumstances­," Mr Keelty said.

But given the extreme weather conditions, he said it was "difficult to suggest that any better outcome could have resulted on the day".

Mr Grant said the courage shown every day by firefighters was "commended and beyond question", adding "their efforts should not be tarnished by rumours or undermined by agency disputes".