By JR on Tuesday, September 06, 2011
THE State Emergency Service is in crisis after thousands of exasperated volunteers quit the body, fed up with bureaucratic bungling.
As Queensland braces for another storm season after its most devastating year of natural disasters on record, the vital service has been rocked by an exodus of 5600 workers in the past five years.
Volunteers blame petty bureaucracy and excessive safety rules for pushing SES groups to the verge of collapse.
SES members regardless of their professional backgrounds or experience are required to spend days on courses learning to climb ladders and are barred from flood boat training until finishing ladder school.
"We were taught you need three people to climb a ladder and to count down the number of steps aloud: four, three, two, one, ground," said one former worker, who quit in frustration. "The training is laborious and infantile and they treat everyone like a complete idiot."
Constant refresher courses, tradesmen forced to attend courses to learn how to operate tools used every day in their jobs and impractical rules are among problems blamed for discouraging existing members and new recruits from donning the orange overalls.
One former volunteer was forced to do a one-day ladder course despite being a qualified electrician who regularly worked on 7m-high ladders.
Prior training is recognised in some cases, but members complain life skills often went ignored because they did not have the right piece of paper.
Another former SES member sat a two-day height training course but had to repeat it less than a year later after a course update made his training "null and void". Members were also told to get pole-saw retraining weeks after a two-day course because regulations had changed.
Meanwhile, some members can wait months for training before they can be put to use because of delays in courses. It has led to an SOS for the State Government to slash the red tape or face a rescue force in terminal decline.
Jandowae SES member of 30 years Tom Bradley said the Darling Downs group had reached its lowest membership with just five volunteers.
The SES controller said heavy regulation combined with a lack of interest from the younger generation had rendered the group practically non-operational.
"This is the worst it has ever been and the town population in Jandowae has certainly increased," Mr Bradley said. "I have had people say to me, 'Why would I bother joining the SES when I have to meet these stringent requirements?' "If you ring and say you want your house covered we have to say, 'Look I'm sorry, we can't do it but I'll organise to get some assistance from a group nearby'.
"And yet you may have people there more than able to do it, but not qualified to what they (Emergency Management Queensland) want with their standards. "A lot of it is common sense and that is what we have lost out of a lot of the things we were doing. Previously people just went and did it."
Condamine SES deputy controller Glen Taylor is one of the loudest voices calling for red tape to be cut, saying the "over-regulation was just madness".
EMQ figures show SES volunteers fell from 12,456 members in 2005 to 6800 active members in 2010. But Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the 2005 volunteer figures were inflated. He did not believe volunteer numbers had dramatically reduced and said skills training was necessary.
Paperwork sank $600,000 boat donation
STATE Emergency Service bosses knocked back a flood boat donation worth $600,000 because it would take too long to fill in the paperwork.
A deal hatched during the January floods to donate a fleet of flood boats to the SES collapsed after those behind the plan were told Emergency Management Queensland could not complete the paperwork in time to deploy the vessels during the floods.
The Commonwealth Bank had struck a deal with Gold Coast boat retailer Sirocco Marine North to donate five vessels, worth about $600,000, provided they could be immediately put to use. The offer was made 48 hours after the floods hit.
But Sirocco Marine North dealer Tom Carlisle said the offer was rejected because red tape meant the deal could not be signed off in time.
"Because of the bureaucracy in EMQ management ... they couldn't take the boats," Mr Carlisle said.
"It was amazing watching it as an outsider. They couldn't get the paperwork done in time. Everybody was really disappointed because they had the opportunity to get $600,000 of rescue equipment for nothing."
Mr Carlisle said one of the amphibious vessels was authorised for use by the SES on a loan basis during the floods provided it was driven by himself and not SES volunteers, who had not been given clearance to drive the vessel.
He spent more than a week driving the vessel around Logan on behalf of the SES.
"The only way we could get that into active service with them is if I actually drove the boat for them," he said.
The Bligh Government has announced funding for 56 new flood boats and extra flood boat training for SES staff in response to the flood inquiry.
An EMQ spokeswoman said the boats were a different configuration to its usual flood vessels, requiring different training for staff and proper testing of the boats.