Almost 82 per cent of the 1 254 volunteers that responded to a question about equipment in our statewide survey of volunteers said that they had all or most of the equipment they needed to perform their roles (Figure 5). This result was backed by our discussions with volunteers at the sites we visited. Where volunteers had equipment concerns, these mostly related to whether the style of vehicle was best suited to their local conditions and the timely provision of personal protective clothing.
In October 2013 during a DFES Volunteer Vehicle and Equipment Advisory Committee meeting, a volunteer representative raised concerns around the need for DFES to more effectively engage volunteers during vehicle design and selection. The minutes noted that ‘Vehicle fit outs and designs have been raised by [Committee] members time and time again over the past years and it was determined that we need to revisit the issues holistically.’ The Committee provided advice to DFES management on the performance and operation of vehicles and equipment. The Committee’s membership included representation from both DFES and volunteer services, including LG volunteers.
We heard similar complaints while on site visits about the way DFES engage with volunteers. DFES advised it is looking at ways to improve its consultation and engagement, including through an online portal, visits from the Corporate Leadership Team, and when trialling new equipment. It has created a number of new committees and is also in the early stages of consultation to replace the Volunteer Vehicle and Equipment Advisory Committee.
In mid-2014 DFES established Volunteer Advisory Committees (VAC). VACs are responsible for advising the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner about any issues that may impact the operation or administration of their particular volunteer service, for example equipment issues. At the time of our report, most services had operational VACs, but the BFS did not.
While on site visits, we also heard frustration from volunteers around the difficulties in ordering and delays in receiving personal protective clothing. Comments were that they would often receive only part of their delivery, with the rest on back order. Responses to our survey supported these comments. Although 67 per cent responded positively, 30 per cent said that access to protective clothing was difficult (Figure 7).
In interviews with DFES staff, they blamed this problem, in part, on the following causes:
- a paper based ordering system with risks that orders could be misplaced
- multiple approvals are required before orders are processed
- some volunteer groups may not factor in supplier delivery timeframes. For example, placing orders a week before they are needed, when the supplier delivery may take three weeks
- DFES do not control which supplier LGs purchase through, which could impact processing times and delivery.
DFES uses a single supplier for their protective clothing. At the time of our audit, DFES was trialling a new online ordering system. It expects this new system will provide improved order tracking, remove the risk of misplaced paper order forms and allow for improved auditing of equipment provision. Volunteers on site visits indicated that some delays related to supplier issues, rather than DFES processes.
While we expect the new system will provide some improvements, it may not fully address the timeliness issue. This is because at the time of our audit the new system did not monitor the time taken between an order being placed to when it was approved. DFES advised it would look at incorporating this control.