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Dermot Barry - Tribute

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 22 June 2023

Tags: Parliament

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, Like so many Tasmanians, I was shocked to hear that our State Chief Fire Officer, Dermot Barry, resigned on Friday 2 June.

The circumstances surrounding his leaving were heated and public, and revolve around the minister's controversial proposed changes to Fire and Emergency Management.

By any measure, these circumstances and his sudden resignation have become a rude full stop to his outstanding career of service to so many communities. Dermot has not had the full farewell accolades that he richly deserves.

I want to put on the public record just a small part of Dermot Barry's life of contributions to Tasmania and Australia.

Dermot is widely regarded as a highly respected leader in fire and emergency management. He is known as a smart operator. I spoke to one of Tasmania's former chief fire officers who knows just what it takes to lead in an emergency situation.

He said he had looked into Dermot's background when he heard he got the job. He saw that Dermot had been a metro firefighter in South Australia, and he thought, well, he probably does not understand volunteers. Then he saw Dermot had been deputy chief officer of South Australia's State Emergency Service. He also understood that a modern chief fire officer cannot be a techno luddite or an evidence denier. Digital coms, spatial analytics, maps, lasers and all the rest must be grist to the mill for rapid response in large-scale conflagrations, to understanding weather dynamics and climate change projections and to undertake post-event assessments.

Dermot Barry had all these skills in spades. For avoidance of doubt, he had worked for years as the Microsoft Worldwide Managing Director for Public Safety. He has been a member of the Australian National Spatial Information Management Committee, the body that reports to the National Counter-Terrorism Committee. In the South Australian State Emergency Service, he was responsible for emergency service IT and communications.

Dermot understood our changing and increasingly volatile fire regime from his experiences at the operational level in multiple environments.

He was also a recent graduate of the US Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program.

He was a past member, I believe, of the United Firefighter Executive in South Australia, which gave him a very good understanding of industrial relations and a respect for the importance of safe and healthy workplaces.

As if that is not enough of a star-studded career, Dermot also holds a master's degree in public administration and a law degree, and has practised as a solicitor/barrister in the criminal law and employment law fields.

For his services to Australia, Dermot Barry was awarded the Emergency Services Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 2020.

Dermot's has been a stellar career, but the acid test for any incoming CFO is their ability to gain the respect of the people who hold a hose against a wall of heat and flame in the most dangerous situations.

A person recounted to me the story of Dermot going to a regional fire brigade after he had first been appointed as chief fire officer to meet with volunteers. You could tell that the whole room was eyeing Dermot off, checking him out, wondering who he was. Not an easy group to break into. When they had finished the briefing, Dermot said, 'Come on boys, let's go down and have a beer at the pub'. He engaged with them and they were impressed. From everything I have heard, our firefighting volunteers have continued to be impressed with Dermot's open style, his candour and his passionate defence of what is needed to support them in what would regularly be dangerous and sometimes life-threatening circumstances.

Dermot is brave and he was committed as chief fire officer to shoring up the best outcomes for our fire service. He welcomed and supported the long-overdue merging of the Tasmania Fire Service and the State Emergency Service, but he also understood the critical need to protect the resourcing and operational decisions that are made by the Tasmania Fire Service from being subsumed under the Tasmania Police structure. Dermot defended to the end the morale and resourcing that is essential to retaining and nurturing the skills of our thousands-strong volunteer firefighting force.

The Hobart Fire Brigade threw a farewell for Dermot last week. There were an amazing number of people from all across the state: volunteers, career, administrative and office staff. He will be greatly missed by the people who worked with him. Dermot Barry kicked many goals for Tasmania in his time as our chief fire officer and he has a lot more to contribute.

We have been truly graced to have a loan of his capability, his seasoned experience and his intelligence in the service of our state. Enjoy your next chapter in life, Dermot. We thank you very much.