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Esperance firefighting resources a concern

AAP logoAAP 9/11/2016

Firefighting resources remain a concern in Western Australia's Great Southern region, where four people died in the Esperance bushfires last year, a parliamentary committee has heard.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Wayne Gregson said that a report recommendation to add an extra eight staff to the region, bringing it up to the standard of others, had not been implemented.

"We have not implemented that. We have not had the capacity," Mr Gregson told the hearing on Wednesday.

He said it was "absolutely" a concern but the department had financial constraints and was dealing with a huge geographical area.

"We were aware of the resource challenges before and after Esperance.

"We can always do more with more.

"We endeavour to plug gaps with the resources that we have."

Mr Gregson said the Esperance bushfire would have been better tackled if there had been greater oversight.

"In regional WA ... it's quite a big logistical challenge to get the level of resources required to manage such big incidents," he told reporters.

"And of course, that would be enhanced if you had (more) local people on the ground."

The United Firefighters' Union has previously expressed concern that when extra firefighters are needed in the Great Southern, they have to be brought in from Kalgoorlie, some 400 kilometres away.

But Mr Gregson says that's a constant challenge around the state.

The hearing also touched on January's bushfire at Yarloop, which razed most of the historic town and killed two elderly men.

The state government recently accepted all recommendations from Euan Ferguson's report on the disaster, including the establishment of a specialist country fire service.

Mr Gregson said there remained "some conflict" about how that would be structured, with some local governments seemingly reluctant to hand over their firefighting management to such a service.

He also said some local governments were not proving helpful with the rollout of identity cards to help firefighters gain access to fire grounds.

Some had complained of their own resourcing constraints, saying they were too busy to take photographs.

Mr Gregson also responded to a suggestion by committee member Tony Buti, who said large sirens could be sounded at fire stations during an emergency.

The fire chief said there was some merit in the idea, which would be most effective in small communities, and warned against reliance on text messages.

Mobile phone towers were sometimes knocked out and fires could move too quickly to get a warning out in time, he said.

"One ought not as a member of the community rely on SMS," Mr Gregson said.

Committee chair Margaret Quirk pointed out the Yarloop casualties were probably not big technology users as they were elderly, and one of the men was deaf.

The Ferguson report confirmed initial reports from locals, who said the fire had already entered the town when an emergency warning that explicitly mentioned Yarloop was issued, and it was not done via telephone or door knocking.

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