Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for ENVIROMENT and PARKS, Mr JAENSCH
The bushfire season is almost upon us and all Tasmanians will want to know our firefighters are well equipped and prepared. We are concerned about the preparedness of the Parks and Wildlife Service to tackle fires in wilderness and remote regions. We have an email from management to Parks staff warning against the use of the current vehicle fleet in the event of a fire. It is our understanding that Parks management and you as minister have known for at least a year that the majority of vehicles in the Parks fleet used to carry slip-on fire tankers during the fire season exceed the vehicles' gross vehicular mass, or GVM, after they have been loaded with a tanker full of water, pump and other essential equipment. That is very concerning. Parks has had a full year to address this issue yet we are heading into this year's fire season unprepared.
Can you confirm Treasury prevented Parks from replacing the vehicles in March this year because the auction market was experiencing a downturn? Further, can you confirm Parks staff have been told by management that the interim measure to deal with the unsuitability of these vehicles in the event of a fire is to arrive at a fire with only a half-filled water tank? Are you as concerned about this apparent lack of preparedness as we are as Tasmania heads into the bushfire season?
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I am advised that the Parks and Wildlife Service fire fleet primarily consists of light attack vehicles supported by heavier tankers. The light attack four-wheel drive vehicles enable small crews of firefighters to access remote areas and perform direct attack firefighting or back-burning operations. The vehicles are designed and equipped to carry a specified water tank, typically up to 400 litres, and the gear necessary to respond to a deployment on a fire line for a period of time.
As part of its routine annual fire season preparations, the Parks and Wildlife Service weighs a sample of its vehicles to determine the amount of water and equipment that can be carried. The gross vehicle mass of a vehicle is the maximum weight the vehicle manufacturer allows when fully loaded. This varies from vehicle to vehicle and is an ongoing issue for all firefighting agencies across Australia given the continued variations in vehicle types and models, and modification options such as the suspension kits that might be available for different vehicles.
The Parks and Wildlife Service has identified that some vehicles in its current fleet may exceed the acceptable tolerances of the vehicles' GVM when fully loaded with people, water and equipment. The equipment load and weight distribution can vary from vehicle to vehicle and standardisation of equipment and compliance with the checklists for each vehicle is an important reequipment of the fire crew operators to ensure that vehicle GVM is not exceeded.
The replacement of vehicles was put on hold during COVID-19 in response to a potential oversupply of leased vehicles on the auction market. With the lifting of this directive, the core fleet of firefighting vehicle orders has now been placed ahead of the 2021 fire season. The Parks and Wildlife Service is preparing a longer-term strategy to replace other vehicles over time as its leases expire. This strategy balances the need of the vehicle for firefighting versus the routine operational demands of the vehicle.
The safety of Parks and Wildlife staff and its ability to carry out its firefighting function is the priority consideration in the ordering or new vehicles ahead of this fire season and the Parks and Wildlife Service advises me that its capacity and its capability is not compromised as minor adjustments to each vehicle can be accommodated safely.