This article says so much about Western Australia’s incredible bush fire brigade volunteers, the local communities they serve and the government processes behind it all. And for the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (AVBFB), it’s more than a little bitter-sweet.

Firstly, the very, very sweet parts.

We recently received this remarkable email from Grant Solomon, the President of the incredible team of volunteers at the Kalgan Bushfire Brigade in the City of Albany:

KALGAN VOLUNTEER BUSHFIRE BRIGADE CHARITY HOME

“The Kalgan Volunteer Bushfire Brigade are delighted to have the support of The Department of Communities, and Heath Development Company as the Oyster Harbour Joint Venture in supplying land for the construction of a residence which is to be sold with the funds going to the Brigade to allow for the construction of a new fire depot. In addition, great support has been received from the WA Home Group who have provided the plans and project management. WA Home group have also sourced supplies of materials and tradesmen who have provide the requirements of the build free, at cost or at heavily discounted rates. The more that is sourced for free or below cost the greater the amount available to the Brigade. The support has been outstanding with most materials being supplied free.

The house under construction is a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom dwelling which is being built to a high standard and is currently at lock up stage. The house will be offered for sale by private treaty and once sold the proceeds after costs will be held in trust by the City of Albany for the purpose of constructing a new depot for the Brigade. The marketing and sale is being conducted by local agent Wellington and Reeve free of charge.”

Wow! This is why the AVBFB is so proud to represent the 26,000 incredible women and men of WA’s Local Government Volunteer Bush Fire Service – local knowledge, local control and they enable the most valuable thing of all – local solutions.

And we would be remiss to not also point out the goosebumps we all get when the great Australian spirit of rolling up your sleeves and lending a hand is embraced by companies and government too. So on behalf of the Kalgan crew, a HUGE thank you to The Department of Communities/Heath Development Company as the Oyster Harbour Joint Venture partners for donating the land, Home Group WA for plans, project management and behind the scenes work to wrangle amazing donations of materials and labour from a whole bunch of their contacts.

While that gives us all great cause for celebration, the AVBFB is also very conscious of what this very positive story confirms one of the long-standing challenges of the still less-than-perfect funding process for our invaluable Local Government Volunteer Bush Fire Service.

To be very clear, this amazing – and again, very positive – project is not a result of a funding request being rejected under the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) system.

But if the extraordinary effort and generosity that has gone into getting this project up is preferable to obtaining the funding from the $400,000,000+ specifically collected to fund emergency services each year, something is not right. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely encourage local action and where it’s possible, local funding but the Association has long been advocating for a huge rethink of the way the ESL is administered because if nothing else, it isn’t easy enough for volunteer bush fire brigades to access the funding for what they need or understand how decisions are made to fund other priorities when they are refused.

Having said that, the AVBFB is very confident that under the strong leadership of Commissioner Darren Klemm and other senior staff like AC Brad Delavale, we are slowly undoing many of the inexplicable inconsistencies and unexplained funding biases nurtured under the last government.

So ultimately, this is more of a sweet-bitter-sweet story that at worst illustrates why the AVBFB has had to spend so much energy and time to help correct the system and at best, demonstrate why we all love the uniquely West Australian emergency services model that embraces local knowledge, wisdom and decision-making.

Congratulations to Grant and his incredible Kalgan Bush Fire volunteers and thank you to all the local businesses (and government department) that were willing and able to have the backs of those who have yours.

We look forward to sharing more news as your interesting and exciting project evolves.

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