The media has been quick to pick on the calls for our government to spend more on our fire services. We thought it a good idea to look at the facts gleaned from the annual reports of the NSW RFS, available here. We will go through state by state in the coming days and look at the totals to work out where our money has gone. What you are about to read may surprise you.
The first chart denotes the NSW RFS budget. The 2018-19 budget was $554mn, up from $311mn 5 years prior, or a 78% increase. One would expect that money would be spent on shiny new toys to help fight fires.
As we can see, the number of fire trucks in service has trended down. From a peak of 4,385 in 2014/15 to 3,883 in 2018/19 or down 11%. There could be an argument made for replacements to more efficient equipment but in order to put out blazes, sheer numbers should help
Water Pumper numbers have fallen from 71 to 63, or -11%. Water carriers have fallen from a peak of 64 to 53, or -17%.
When looking at the number of grass or bushfires that were dealt with the trend looks as follows.
When assessing controlled burns, the total area in hectares by year that was conducted is as follows.
However, when dividing by the number of controlled burns conducted by year, we see that the average slid from 259ha per burn to 74ha. This is not proof of efficacy.
How has the trend of the brave and selfless volunteers at the NSW RFS progressed?
Employed staff at the NSW RFS has increased from 846 in 2012/13 to 936 in 2018/19.
With that, average salaries have crept up from $114,285 in 2012/13 to $131,908 in the latest filing. In no way is FNF Media casting aspersions on the value of those full-time employees.
Although the growth in the Chief Commissioner’s total remuneration has grown from $292,450 in 2012/13 to $439,015 in 2018/19 or a 50% increase over that period.
Running the RFS is no simple task. Hiring good people to run the operation shouldn’t be done on the cheap.
The reason FNF Media has suggested that the fire services need a thorough audit is to work out whether tax dollars are being spent wisely. Since 2012/13, $2.75bn has been spent on the NSW RFS. Are we right to question why a rising budget has led to a drift in equipment and a fall-off in volunteers? Can we link the reduced average burns in some way to the very high level of fuel loads that many volunteers have pointed to within all of the current political grandstanding of chucking more money at the problem instead of evaluating the efficacy of that spend?
Because to look at the data on a stand-alone basis, it would seem that the ball has been dropped somewhere. It doesn’t seem plausible that firefighters can be short of vital equipment when there was a $140mn extra spent last year. Only $15m went on extra salaries. Stands to reason that there might be a problem within the decision making processes in the senior management echelons of the fire service that warrants closer inspection.
That is a job for you Gladys Berejklian