‘Skeleton crews’ to defend communities from blazes
SENIOR Mackay firefighters will be barred from the front lines, in a bust-up over blue cards.
Mount Blackwood first officer Wally Giumelli warned the region may be left with "skeleton crews" as more experienced officers were forced to step aside for not submitting to mandatory working-with-children checks.
The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service assured Mackay would be protected, as nearly 95 per cent of its volunteers held a blue card or were waiting approval.
But Rural Fire Service Mackay's Andrew Houley said the true figure of Central Region fireys who had not applied was closer to 40 per cent.
As pressure mounts to expel volunteers who are refusing to gain blue cards, Mr Houley warns there will "be some rallying".
"I respect those who did (get a blue card) and those who didn't," the Rural Fire Service Mackay area director said.
For seven months, RFS volunteers have battled with the State Government over mandatory working-with-children checks.
Leading the charge was veteran firey Mr Giumelli, who along with many other Queensland RFS volunteers failed to apply for a blue card by the March 31 deadline.
QFES Commissioner Greg Leach will write to the management committees of the relevant brigades to "recommend terminating the membership'' of 74 Mackay volunteers without blue cards.
Mr Giumelli said it was disgusting that volunteers were being forced to cancel the membership of fellow fireys.
"Once the volunteers start fighting one another, you've destroyed it (the RFS)," Mr Giumelli (pictured) said.
He added that the 74 volunteers effectively booted out of the service represented the "old guard" of fireys.
"They're losing all their old blokes and all their experience," he said.
"It's the people who know the area, who have the experience.
"I really feel the community are going to be in danger."
Opposition to blue cards might be concentrated within a few brigades, he said, leaving those communities with a drastically reduced force.
He said of the 160 members of the Mt Blackwood brigade, he knew of only a dozen who had obtained a blue card.
A QFES spokeswoman said individuals could still apply for a blue card.
"There is no fine for individuals," she said.
"However, they will not be tasked to incidents and will not be permitted to attend the fireground if they do not hold a current blue card."
The blue card status of all existing staff and volunteers would be monitored to ensure they remained eligible to serve, she said.