Fireys reject ‘dash for cash’ to protect their culture
MACKAY region rural firefighters are dismissing calls for pay packets, amid fears money would poison the culture of the volunteer brigades.
Long-serving fireys have taken a firm stance in what has become a political stoush over whether or not to pay volunteers.
At the request of the New South Wales Government, volunteer firefighters have been offered up to $6000 tax free from the Federal Government, mainly to offset money lost by foregoing regular pay while they battle bushfires.
Queensland firefighters may miss out of the deal as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pushes for a national scheme rather than a series of state-based agreements.
However, while the scheme was driven by good intentions, Mackay rural firefighters said they would be wary of accepting a salary for their work.
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland Mackay area representative Stephen Smith, who advocates for volunteers in the region, said there was little support for the scheme.
"We don't do it for notoriety or own benefit - we do it to volunteer and for the benefit of our community," Mr Smith said.
"We do it because we want to be there.
"If you're paid, you're not a volunteer.
"It changes the dynamic of the whole show."
The strength of the rural brigades came from the determination of the volunteers, something that could be poisoned by pay packets, Mr Smith said.
"You don't get slackers and people who want to bludge on the system," he said.
"They're not there for the money or overtime.
"As soon as you put money on the table that changes.
"It's not to be taken as a dash for cash."
While he appreciated the outpouring of support for rural fireys amid the horror fire season across the country, Ms Smith said the offer of payment would kill off the culture of the rural brigades.
For many of the volunteers in the Mt Blackwood brigade, being at the frontline of a fire meant taking a salary hit, first officer Wally Giumelli said.
While Mr Giumelli said fireys deserved to be compensated during extraordinary fire seasons, he worried that the payment would force additional controls on the volunteer organisation.
"I don't work for the government, I work for my community," he said.
"I think they paying for people is the beginning of the end. They will control us."