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Police, Fire and Emergency Management - Fire Warden Training

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: State Budget, Firefighters, Bushfires

Dr WOODRUFF - A decision was made last year that Tas Fire Training would stop providing chief fire wardens and fire warden training to the private sector. I understand that was being wrapped up in April this year. The exception is for large businesses that have emergency response teams such as organisations like Norske Skog. I understand there is now a shortage of fire warden training opportunities for businesses outside of major population centres in Tasmania as a result of this decision. It has been reported to me that Toll in Burnie who handle dangerous goods is one of many businesses in regional areas that is not able to get this important fire safety training. Are you aware of this situation?

Mrs PETRUSMA - I am aware that the Tasmanian Fire Services through Tas Fire Training are competing in a commercial environment against other industry providers in providing nationally-accredited training. Tas Fire Training ceased before I became minister in March 2021 with a new business model being implemented. This new model allows for the provision of training where obvious gaps by providers may occur. TFS is maintaining a capability to deliver externally to those high risk and high consequence areas and TFS will also continue to provide training to emergency response teams at high-risk industrial sites. They are continuing to monitor high evacuation drills undertaken by the community fire safety and building safety area to ensure that standards are met. I will ask the Deputy Chief Officer, Mr Byatt to provide further information since this was before my time.

Mr BYATT - We did change our business profile in that area. I am aware that Toll and I think it was Spirit of Tasmania at one point said that they weren't able to get the training. I am also aware that training was scheduled out of the northern region so they had been able to be provided that training. We still maintain our training wardens for high risk, high consequence areas, such as nursing homes, hospitals, government areas. We are still committed to do that. We are still working with any businesses that come to us that say they can't, we work with them to try to find a provider but we are also open to the fact that if that cannot happen then we will look at how we provide it.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I understand that although this training is not formally provided, I think this move might have been predicated on the idea that private training operators would step in and fill the gap but it is cost inefficient in some areas for them to do that. We are talking about a community service that is in the public interest to make sure that every business that would operate a fire warden is able to do so in as fully equipped and safe manner as possible to keep employees and the wider community safe. Can you tell me how many booking requests have been made from April this year for training with Tas Fire Training and how many have been accepted and how many have been delivered?

Mr BYATT - Not at hand, minister.

Mrs PETRUSMA - We will have to take that question on notice.

Dr WOODRUFF - Will you reconsider or investigate the concerns that have been raised with me to consider that there is a duty of care for Tas Fire Training for the wider community? Where a private operator is not available to undertake this work the Tas Fire Service must step in and pick that up without any discussion about it. It sounds as though it's done on a case by case basis. Will you make the default policy of the department that where it's not available by a private certifier that it would be picked up by TasFire Service?

Mrs PETRUSMA - I understand in areas where there's market failure that that is the case but I might ask the Chief Officer if he has got anything to add.

Mr BARRY - Yes, that is correct. In areas where there is market failure or where, for whatever reason, private enterprise is unavailable to deliver that training, we do fill those gaps and we do it as a community service obligation in that sense. They track that in their business reports about the contribution they're making to the community because some of those things are unviable otherwise - you wouldn't do it as a business enterprise.

One of the challenges this year or the last 18 months has been the impact of COVID and it has stopped a lot of mainland training providers coming across and doing it. A lot of the commercial enterprises would bring their people over in bulk, deliver some training and then head back and now they've been unable to do that and so that's why we've had these fluctuations in the market.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. The final question on this, minister, what is the staffing allocation for TasFire training and how many positions are currently unfilled, if any?

Mr BYATT - TasFire Training has two members on the north-west coast, one in the north and there are three positions in the south. In the south all three of those people have recently retired so we're backfilling those.

Dr WOODRUFF - I have heard this is a concern that we've lost a big skill gap and that is a big problem. What is being done to mitigate that?

Mr BYATT - We have just gone through a station officer recruitment process that has just seen seven new station officers put on. Part of those went into the positions that were previously in the TasFire Training roles which now form part of the broader training and education of Tasmania Fire Service and SES.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you.