Local Leaders | Innovation: Has the time come to pay the RFS?

Fire in the Budawangs. Photo: Paul Cockram
Fire in the Budawangs. Photo: Paul Cockram

We all owe a lot to the firefighters of the Rural Fire Service. When our town and its surrounding areas are threatened by fire they drop everything, hop in the trucks and do their best to put it out.

Who pays for this service? Good question. In my brigade (Mongarlowe), the self-employed are well-represented for sure. The NSW Government has passed legislation that employers may not sack or penalise an employee for responding to a fire call, but they are not required to pay their normal wages.

The question we need to answer is how to make the RFS into a service that spreads the burden equitably through the community. After all, this is not a sausage sizzle at the markets or a fibre group; this is a squad of people, trained at their own expense, who go off to the fire front to save all that we hold dear.

All the evidence points towards firefighting becoming a more frequent and perilous part of our future life. So perhaps we need to see fighting fires as a vital community service in the same way as we see jury duty.

For a trial of 10 days or less a juror in NSW is paid $106.30 a day. Surely a similar amount for a 12-hour shift on the fire ground is not too great a burden for society to bear? What could go wrong - hordes of opportunists turning up on Sunday morning to get on the gravy train?

Of course not. Regular training is always desirable and the best-trained members will be the ones called to go out - and that will be a good outcome.

It's something we need to discuss because, as it stands, all that protects you from having your life year-zeroed is a selfless bunch of heroes who are mostly all paying for the privilege.