MFB also charging for fire extinguishment

MFB also charging for fire extinguishment

In January 2019, a fire occurred at a premises in Cambellfield that recycled a number of items and among this lithium batteries.

In this case, the Melbourne Fire Brigade rang the landlord seeking a guarantee that they would meet the cost of excavators needed to assist in the extinguishing of the fire.

As I understand it, the tenant also received a call, as did the landlord’s insurance broker. On hearing that the fire services were simply going to allow the fire to burn until they got a commitment to fund the cost of the extinguishing, the insurance broker accepted responsibility to meet the cost.

There are a number of serious issues here that I feel needs to be addressed.

First up, the fire services in Victoria are now funded by a levy on all property rate payers. As it is a broad based tax and not just those prudent enough to insure, then you would expect that the funding would be at a higher level than ever.

Secondly, what damage is done to the environment, to the health and welbeing of the fire fighters, to the public and to neighbouring properties while the fire is left to burn and while the MFB are stuffing around ringing every man and his dog to get what turned out to be just over $21,000?

One neighbour has suffered significant soot damage to stock worth many millions of dollars, which is not insured. How much more damage was done due to the delay in extinguishment?

Surely getting the fire out is first and foremost and it would ultimately be cheaper to get in the equipment and get it out than having fire fighters and their equipment tied up at the site.

The next thing to consider is, is the cost fair and reasonable? We were able to knock down and remove the entire large building to the tip for about $6,000 more than the cost imposed by the MFB for the hire of the excavators.

This situation and the one I addressed yesterday is to me a ludicrous and unsustainable situation. If the brigades need more funding to cover unusual situations, then lets fund it properly so that the fire brigade can just get in and put the fire out.

I thought that we had finally got it right after years of lobbying and removal of the insurance industry funding the fire services. How wrong was I?

This is yet another case where I think the insurance industry and government need to sit down and sort out this rubbish before something serious occurs caused by the current approach to funding additional equipment.

For the record, this is what the current legislation states in Victoria:

The power to charge fees needs to be set by the Minister. Ministerial power is exercised through Regulations as is enumerated by section 34 of the Act. The power under the Act to make regulations has been butchered by a large number of amendments but most relevantly, the Minister may introduce regulations which:

“   (n)     for prescribing the basis on which the cost of attending at a hazardous material incident or toxic fire incident the whole or part of which is not a fire within the meaning of section 3(1) is to be determined and prescribing the fees and charges to be paid to the Board for that attendance;”

The above power was granted in 1989. Further powers granted (in 2012):

“  (o)     for prescribing, or authorising the Board to fix, the fees and charges to be paid to the Board for—

              (i)     the inspection by the Board of plans, premises and equipment for the prevention or suppression of fire;

              (ii)     any service the Board is empowered to provide under this or any other Act;

              (iii)     any other service rendered by the Board or by members or employees of the Board (whether within or outside Victoria);”

and

(oa)     for prescribing, for the purposes of this Act, the fees and charges of any unit in relation to attendance at any fire, answering any alarm or responding to any report of a fire;”

Accordingly, the Regulations provide the basis of charge at hazardous sites as follows (Reg 18): http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/vic/consol_reg/mfbir2018503/s18.html

“(d)     in respect of an attendance of a unit in response to a hazardous material incident or toxic fire incident—

              (i)     the owner or occupier of premises at which the incident occurred;”

The schedule to the same Regulation 18 specifies the amount payable for “each appliance” as:

39·06 fee units for each appliance in attendance for each 15 minutes (or part of 15 minutes) during which the appliance is absent from its station.”

A fee unit is currently $14.45.

Finally, “Additional Costs” such as the machinery used in the fire are recoverable under this regulation: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/vic/consol_reg/mfbir2018503/s19.html which provides:

“(2)     Additional costs of attending a hazardous material incident or toxic fire incident are the costs incurred by the Board in attending or dealing with the effects of attending the incident and include the following—

  (d)     the cost of hiring equipment and vehicles to deal with the hazard involved in the incident.”

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