The NSW Rural Fire Service has confirmed it will improve its aerial firefighting fleet after receiving a 28 per cent increase in its funding from the state budget.
The organisation will now have access to $672.5 million with the potential for further supplementary funding depending on the strength of this year’s bushfire season.
“This additional funding will deliver significant benefits for members of the RFS, including more new and upgraded fire trucks, additional personal protective clothing, improvements to the RFS aerial fleet and training facilities, and better mental health support, to name a few,” said RFSA president Brian McDonough.
The increase comes after the bushfire royal commission’s final report recommended Australia creates a new national aerial firefighting fleet funded by state and federal governments.
The long-awaited investigation said it had heard evidence that existing aircraft weren’t shared between states and territories last year because of the intensity and length of the ‘black summer’ bushfire season.
It also criticised the slow progress towards creating a new hazard warning system, which was first called for in 2004.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was first proposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February and is currently headed up by former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, leading environmental lawyer Andrew Macintosh and ex-ADF chief Air Chief Marshal (Ret’d) Mark Binskin.
The commission received more than 1,700 submissions and heard from more than 290 witnesses. It followed an interim publication, which further argued Australia had become too reliant on firefighting aircraft loaned from other countries – and warned longer seasons worldwide may make it harder to obtain aircraft in future.
Earlier this year, a new paper by former senior fire and emergency service leaders argued the country needs to radically change its bushfire strategy to concentrate on extinguishing blazes when they’re still small.
The investigation, written by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA) group, argued Australia must invest in automated sensors that can allow for the immediate deployment of firefighting aircraft.
“This is a major change in our approach and requires significant investment in early detection and rapidly deployable aerial and ground firefighting forces,” the report argued.
Australian Aviation has also revealed that there were more accidents and safety incidents involving aerial firefighting aircraft in the financial year covering the last bushfire season than any in the previous 20.