The ACT Government and United Firefighters Union have reached a landmark agreement on a four-year-plan to expand the force, create pathways to leadership for senior firefighters and introduce health initiatives to better support their physical and mental health.
Under the new enterprise agreement, Canberra will receive an additional 99 firefighters over the next four years to meet the needs of the growing city.
All ACT firefighters will now be entitled to annual medical screening for a range of occupational illnesses, at a provider of their choice, as well as access to a fitness trainer to help build resilience and improve their chances of surviving critical incidents.
In an Australian first, ACT firefighters will have access to mental health screening and peer-support organised by the firefighters themselves.
The health data of these new initiatives will be shared among agencies to track their success.
ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner, Georgeina Whelan, said negotiations with the union were collaborative and positive and all parties had a shared interest in the safety of the ACT community and firefighters.
“The new enterprise agreement is focused on building a modernised fire service and meeting the needs of firefighters,” she said.
“This includes investment in health, wellbeing and safety initiatives, a revitalised allowance, skills and training incentives and staffing arrangements during the bushfire season.”
Ms Whelan said the health, safety and training of ACT firefighters was important to her.
“This new agreement will allow us to invest, over the next five years, in a contemporary approach to training that is not only focused on technical skills, but on executive development and leadership skills.
“It is my intent, as the commissioner of this agency, to grow our own chief officer in the ACT from within the ranks.
“To do that, I need to invest in the professional development and create opportunities for our senior firefighters to compete on merit for that role.”
Ms Whelan said the ACT community had seen how hard firefighters across the Territory had worked to keep Canberra safe during an unprecedented bushfire season but warned it had taken a toll on their health.
“I’m excited to roll out real reforms that keep our firefighters healthy and give them choice to work in different roles across the agency.
“This is a good day, but we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
United Firefighters Union ACT secretary, Greg McConville, said although the union and government didn’t always agree, their agreement today was “historic”.
“We have agreed on a skills maintenance regime that will see Canberra firefighters among the highest trained in the country.”
Mr McConville said the new health and wellbeing plan to support firefighters from recruitment to retirement was the first of its kind in Australia and had been developed through international links with Edmonton in Canada.
“Firefighting is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world,” he said.
“Better trained firefighters, more firefighters, healthier firefighters equal a safer community for Canberra.”
Mr McConville praised the ACT Government for its commitment to mental health reforms and said many emergency service workers had post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Members see things they would prefer to forget, but as much as they try, they can’t.
“It takes a deep toll on firefighters. Many end up broken.”
The new ACT Fire & Rescue enterprise agreement has a four-year duration, with an expiry date in 2024.