This inaugural annual report provides the Fire Services Implementation Monitor (FSIM)’s assessment of the first eight months of the implementation progress of Victoria’s fire services reforms. The report covers the period 15 October 2020 to 30 June 2021.
The report focuses on delivery against actions in The Year One Fire Services Reform Implementation Plan (the Year One Plan), released by the then Minister for Police and Emergency Services on 15 October 2020. The Year One Plan outlines the foundational arrangements required to establish the new fire services model.
This report does not capture the full first year of progress defined in the Year One Plan (October 2020–October 2021). FSIM recognises that substantial activity will have been undertaken since the end of the reporting period, however a summary of activity to 30 June 2021 provides government and the community with a progress snapshot and outlines early issues and opportunities.
As outlined in the Year One Plan, on 1 July 2020 Victoria’s new fire services arrangements commenced with CFA re-established as a volunteer firefighting agency. The Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (the CFA Act) recognises CFA as a fully volunteer firefighting service under the command and control of the CFA Chief Officer (CO), enshrining the critical role of volunteers in CFA.
The Fire Rescue Victoria Act 1958 (the FRV Act) commenced on 1 July 2020, establishing FRV as a new organisation. FRV brings together all former Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) career firefighters and staff with former CFA career firefighters and support staff. FRV serves metropolitan and greater Melbourne and major regional centres and supports volunteer response where required.
The FRV Act also established three independent bodies to provide oversight of the reform including the Fire District Review Panel (FDRP), FSIM, and Firefighter Registration Board (FRB).
To support the implementation of the reform, the Victorian Government committed $246.2 million over five financial years (FY 2020–21 to FY 2024–25). This included $126 million for CFA and volunteers for new training programs, personal protective clothing, new appliances and stations, and brigade supports.
The Year One Plan set out the transactional requirements to operationalise the legislated amendments and provided a pathway for the transfer of relevant CFA’s assets, liabilities, and employees from CFA to FRV.
FSIM’s year one assessment focused on the foundational and transactional actions required to embed and operationalise the vision for modern, complementary, and sustainable fire services that keep Victorians safe. The assessment is based on three themes: agency capacity and capability under the new model, collaboration, and workplace culture and diversity.
FSIM assessed the progress and effectiveness of Year One Plan actions and provided advice, where relevant, on the extent to which the actions are delivering on the reform objectives. In preparing the report, FSIM engaged with CFA, FRV, EMV, and FDRP to obtain a detailed understanding of progress made against Year One Plan actions. FSIM met with stakeholders across the emergency services and monitoring agencies to better understand the landscape of the fire services reform implementation.
The appointment of FSIM and the supporting office midway through the 2020-21 financial year, and the constraints on engagement activities due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, have limited the scope of FSIM’s review for this first report.
The Year One Plan set out 54 actions to be acquitted by October 2021. The status of the Year One Plan’s 54 actions1 reported to the Minister for Emergency Services (the Minister), via Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) as at 31 May 2021, is:
- 6 are complete
- 22 are progressing and on track
- 16 are progressing and experiencing minor delays
- 8 are progressing and experiencing significant delays
- 2 have not yet commenced.
FSIM will continue to monitor and report on the remaining ongoing actions as the Year One Plan comes to its conclusion and is replaced with the Year Two to Five Implementation Plan (Year Two to Five Plan).
The Victorian Government’s plan to implement transitional and transactional activities was ambitious and the pace of reform implementation rapid. As at 30 June 2021, CFA and FRV had achieved significant milestones, with the transition to the new model well underway. CFA, FRV and DJCS, represented by EMV, have shown strong commitment to the reform, managing several strategic and operational challenges to set the foundations for success.
Significant and challenging programs of work remain to embed the new fire services model however, it is a testament to the commitment of CFA and FRV personnel across Victoria that when emergencies occur, they continue to respond to protect all Victorians.
CFA and FRV demonstrated responsiveness and dedication to implement the reform by establishing agreements and supporting instruments at the outset to support operational and administrative service delivery.
CFA and FRV faced complex implementation challenges to finalise agreements to oversee the transfer of people, assets, liabilities, and services. In many instances, these challenges led to CFA and FRV developing ‘work arounds’ via interim arrangements to maintain service capability and capacity. While these interim arrangements allowed service delivery to continue, they affected organisational efficiency, and at times reduced morale.
These inefficiencies were compounded by the lack of an agreed framework outlining the responsibilities and status of arrangements, and ambiguity on processes to finalise the service delivery model.
It is important that CFA and FRV finalise the outstanding agreements, complete planned reviews, and transition from interim arrangements to settled and embedded ‘business as usual’ processes in year two. Finalised arrangements will provide staff and volunteers with confidence in their roles and functions and are fundamental to a modern, complementary fire services model. Effective project planning, an overarching governance framework that provides a pathway for issue escalation and resolution, agreed consultation approaches, and communication of feedback processes are needed to finalise the service delivery model. Addressing these issues will lessen the risk of embedding long-term systemic operational ineffectiveness.
CFA’s power and authority to delegate some critical service delivery functions to FRV continues to impact capability and capacity in CFA and FRV. The ability to delegate some powers is impacted by legislative and regulatory restrictions, and liabilities associated with actions undertaken by a person exercising a delegated power. Where constraints have impacted CFA’s ability to delegate its powers and functions, administrative and operational inefficiencies were evident. CFA must continue to explore opportunities to finalise delegations to FRV to ensure CFA and FRV personnel have clear, agreed roles and responsibilities and staff and volunteers are suitably authorised to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
CFA Commander rank vacancies in Victoria have been a long-standing issue. Post 1 July 2020, CFA advises these issues continued with the agencies experiencing significant challenges in managing Commander relief arrangements in addition to substantive vacancies. Many substantive roles in the country areas of Victoria (CAoV) remain unfilled, and FRV endeavoured to manage this by providing short-term acting arrangements over the reporting period. However, these vacancies and short-term secondments had operational implications, in some areas impacting CFA’s ability to complete preparedness activities and documentation, and capacity to attend and/or meaningfully contribute at partner and stakeholder meetings. Some volunteers experienced high leadership turnover and seconded command staff took on additional workload to cover vacant roles. CFA and FRV leadership collaborated to manage these issues and mitigate operational impacts on CFA, but at 30 June 2021 vacancies remain and relief arrangements remain unresolved. If not resolved, ongoing vacancy and relief issues will continue to impact CFA preparedness activities.
FSIM observes that staff and volunteer engagement and morale across CFA and FRV has been affected by the reform, particularly through vacancies, secondment arrangements, and interim agreements. These impacts have potential implications for sector level service delivery capability and capacity. For example, CFA’s volunteers reported feeling underutilised and undervalued. CFA acknowledges these issues and is undertaking a range of activities to improve volunteers’ experience to retain its volunteer base.
FRV reported impacts on staff morale where there are interim arrangements that require CFA to oversee FRV services delivered on CFA’s behalf in order to discharge its statutory obligations. FSIM will continue to observe this issue in year two of the reform, given the potential implications of low morale on agencies’ workforce capability and capacity.
CFA faces additional capacity and capability challenges unique to a dedicated volunteer workforce. Volunteers are an essential part of CFA’s capability and capacity in responding to fire and other emergencies. CFA recognises that its ageing volunteer workforce profile is a long-term risk to the organisation if there are no appropriate recruitment and retention mechanisms to maintain a viable volunteer workforce. CFA is preparing long-term volunteer workforce strategies to address risks associated with its ageing volunteer workforce and Victoria’s changing population.
The Victorian Government allocated $126 million over five years to support CFA capability initiatives. CFA is progressing the delivery of its volunteer support and training programs, the procurement of new appliances, and implementing station upgrades. CFA and FRV have systems in place for training and accreditation in critical skills. There is an opportunity for CFA and FRV to leverage joint training exercises to support sectorwide resilience and capability building.
The establishment of the new complementary service delivery model has clearly impacted service delivery efficiency, organisational resourcing, and staff and volunteer morale. FSIM will return to issues highlighted above in year two to assess their effectiveness and any resulting service delivery impacts more closely.
CFA and FRV had a Year One Plan action to review state-wide service delivery approaches and capability plans to best service the Victorian community. As at 30 June 2021, CFA and FRV were both at an initial, planning stage for this action. Agreement on the operational requirements of a complementary fire services model would provide clarity on the skills, resources, and equipment needed at an agency level. CFA and FRV should also enhance community engagement to strengthen their links with the community and ensure service provision reflects community risks.
FSIM notes there are some potential risks to future collaboration. For example, FSIM observed there was a lack of a clear and agreed consultation process, and ineffective information sharing between agencies involved in signing the Lease and Licencing Agreement (Tenancy Agreement) for the 33 CFA former career and integrated stations transferred to FRV.
The success of a collaborative approach relies on CFA and FRV reaching agreement on a suite of operational and administrative matters arising from the reform. Effective project planning approaches for future work will provide a clear line of sight to project completion, avoid re-visiting issues, and provide stakeholders with clarity on their role in delivery. As part of this planning process, the agencies should nominate a decision-making forum for outstanding agreements. This forum should confirm a process to finalise agreements (including consultation) and ensure the process has been followed and completed prior to both parties signing an agreement. It is important that all relevant parties to an agreement are provided with clear and timely updates on feedback and that they agree on any proposed amendments.
There is clear evidence that CFA and FRV leadership worked together to establish structures, processes, and principles to underpin joint decision making and address operational issues. CFA and FRV collaborated to develop service delivery agreements and supporting interim instruments to facilitate service transition and delivery and continued to jointly respond to fire and other emergencies and deliver administrative functions. FSIM will seek evidence on the extent of collaboration across all levels of CFA and FRV in its year two program of work.
CFA and FRV initiated the Fire Services Operations Committee (FSOC)2, which provided strategic oversight and a decision-making forum for interoperability issues. Through FSOC, CFA and FRV worked collaboratively to identify and address key joint operational issues.
This forum supports accountability for operational delivery and enables CFA and FRV to jointly assess reform progress. It also provides a communication channel between CFA and FRV. FSOC will continue to be critical to collaboration. The ongoing effectiveness of FSOC is contingent on a broader, overarching governance framework that supports accountability and provides a pathway for issue escalation and resolution. FSIM will monitor FSOC and other governance arrangements in supporting interoperability and collaboration between CFA and FRV in year two.
In response to several Victorian Government reviews that identified workplace culture issues and a lack of diversity in the fire services, the 2017 Fire Services Statement (the Statement) committed CFA and FRV to the establishment of modern and inclusive workplaces.
Cultural change takes time. CFA and FRV, in collaboration with EMV, have committed to embedding a culture of diversity and inclusion into their organisations. This commitment is evident from their participation in sector-wide diversity and inclusion strategic working groups, development of diversity and inclusion organisational strategies, the expansion of existing agency programs, and establishment of new programs.
The government-mandated gender diversity targets set out in the Statement3 are unlikely to be met by CFA and FRV in the near term. However, CFA and FRV have started recruitment campaigns targeted at women and have established programs to support women’s participation in the fire services. This has the potential to improve female firefighter recruitment numbers and female leadership representation in the long term.
There are opportunities for CFA and FRV to collaborate on organisational workforce diversity, collate community diversity inclusion data and develop analytics capabilities, which will help them to understand community diversity profile trends, consider localised recruitment strategies, and invest in targeted diversity programs. Improvements in embedding monitoring and evaluation approaches of agency diversity and inclusion programs will clarify whether programs are meeting intended reform outcomes.
CFA and FRV have taken steps to update their complaints management approaches, noting that inclusive and respectful workplace conduct is important for cultural change. CFA has decentralised and allocated additional human resources capability to the regions, leading to a reduction in the number of cumulative complaint cases. FRV has improved staff education relating to its complaints management processes, which FRV attributes to an increase in complaints and conduct inquiries.
FSIM will continue to seek evidence on how CFA and FRV are fostering cultural change to support a safe workplace and appropriately address issues and complaints in future reporting. A safe workplace is particularly important given the serious sexual harassment and bullying allegations reported by some Victorian firefighters.
Effective governance is required to enable robust and transparent decision-making and instil confidence in the operationalisation of the new fire services model. A governance framework was established to provide oversight of the Year One Plan at a ministerial and inter-departmental level. EMV is well placed to maintain and coordinate ongoing governance for future Implementation Plan(s) and has initiated a review of the existing governance arrangements. FSIM is supportive of a governance framework that clearly articulates CFA, FRV and EMV individual and joint roles. This framework should also empower an overarching governance body with the necessary authority to address and resolve major challenges to the successful delivery of Implementation Plan actions.
The FRV Act requires that the Implementation Plan sets out the government’s proposed actions regarding the financial sustainability of CFA and FRV, including ensuring that volunteer brigades are not adversely affected by the fire services reforms. FSIM has a legislated requirement to review and assess the impact of fire services reforms on the financial sustainability of CFA and FRV. FSIM will seek evidence of the cost mapping analysis project, led by EMV, in year two of the reform and will consider the impacts that reform implementation is having on the financial sustainability of CFA and FRV.
FSIM understands the Year Two to Five Plan will have a focus on embedding and strengthening CFA and FRV capabilities following the establishment of the new model. In developing the Year Two to Five Plan, there is an opportunity to further support monitoring processes by agreeing and confirming end dates (or review dates), objectives, end-products or states, and key dependencies. There is a further opportunity to establish clear approval and issue resolution pathways for joint actions and clarify and confirm the role of approving bodies.
Implementing the reform has proven to be a complex and challenging task for the agencies, staff, and volunteers. The commitment, goodwill, and collaboration of CFA and FRV in progressing the key elements of the reform so far is evident. The success of the reform going forward will ultimately rest on a respectful, supportive, and collaborative culture both within and between CFA and FRV with a focus on how a complementary fire service can best serve the Victorian community.
Reviewed 18 November 2021