Victorian firefighters call for funding to maintain aging truck fleet

Not good enough, Premier Allan & Minister Symes.

  • In short: Victorian firefighters are calling for more funding to maintain their “aging” fleet after a fire truck broke down twice in recent months.
  • The union says almost half of Fire Rescue Victoria’s fleet is out of date and that the equipment is not reliable enough.
  • What’s next? The Victorian government is increasing the fire services property levy for residential and primary production properties from July 1.

Frustration rather than relief overcame firefighter Luke Alexander after he put out a grassfire in north-west Victoria earlier this year.

The 14-year-old truck his crew operated had broken down and he was forced to book a taxi to get back to the station.

“We were stuck on the side of the road twiddling our thumbs,” Mr Alexander said.

“We just had to abandon the truck on the side of the road, wait for the mechanics to come from Swan Hill.”

Swan Hill is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Mildura.

Mr Alexander, a United Firefighters Union delegate, said the breakdown on March 9 was the first of two in as many months involving the truck.

He said a similar event happened last week when a crew he was not part of attended a grassfire.

The union says almost half of Fire Rescue Victoria’s (FRV) fleet is out of date.

“The truth is our equipment is not reliable enough,” says one firefighter in a recent campaign ad on the issue.

FRV did not respond directly to questions about its policy on aging vehicles, but a spokesperson said safety for firefighters and the community was paramount.

“All of FRV’s fire appliances are rigorously maintained to ensure they are both safe to use and ready to respond in the event of an emergency,” the spokesperson said.

Volunteers have also complained about the aging fleet in Victoria’s Country Fire Authority.

A fire truck bearing the slogan "You don't call politicians when your house is on fire".

‘There’s no back-up’

Earlier this month, a fire truck from Mildura was sent to Point Cook, where a truck was out of commission.

The Point Cook station was previously using a reserve truck housed in Warrnambool.

Warrnambool firefighter and union delegate Kallan Geer said fleet issues in Melbourne affected the whole state.

“It is not just Mildura and Warrnambool — it means if Portland get a job as well and we have got to support them, there’s no back-up,” he said.

“Resources from regional areas are having to be moved into the city to cover for an aging fleet.”

Mr Alexander agreed that was a common occurrence.

“On a weekly basis there are emails going out to all fire stations of someone looking for a spare truck due to a breakdown,” he said.

But an FRV spokesperson said it utilised its vehicle pool across the state to ensure availability for emergency responses.

“There is no single point of dependency,” the spokesperson said.

The Victorian government plans to increase the state’s fire services property levy from July 1, meaning taxpayers will pay more to fund FRV.

The median residential property owner will pay an extra $35 and the average farmer will pay about $150 more.

In addition, FRV said it had received more than $14 million to acquire five new trucks.

“FRV has 23 new vehicles in the build stage, including two rehabilitation units, Victoria’s first electric fire truck, three new breathing apparatus support vehicles, 12 heavy pumpers, four heavy rescue vehicles and an ultra large pumper,” it said.