Fire protection in rural areas received a major boost during the 1995-96 financial year, with the supply of 23 new fire appliances to bush fire brigades throughout Western Australia.
Emergency Services Minister Bob Wiese said funding for the new appliances and safety equipment amounted to more than $2.8 million, which was provided by the State Government, local government authorities, Bush Fires Brigades and the Lotteries Commission.
Mr Wiese said the Bush Fires Board's annual report - which was tabled in Parliament - also indicated that more than $1.1 million was spent on improving radio communication equipment.
He said the equipment was upgraded in preparation for the coming bush fire season and funds were directed to shires and bush fire brigades from Mullewa to Denmark.
Mr Wiese praised the efforts of volunteer firefighters who attended 2,384 incidents during the 1995-96 bush fire season and spent a mammoth 186,000 hours on fire prevention and suppression and an additional 57,200 hours on training.
"This represents an incredible service by those volunteers in helping to protect their local communities from the dangers of fire," he said.
"That figure becomes even more impressive when it is realised that it does not take into account time spent on radio monitoring and standby or travelling to and from fires."
The Minister said that during 1995-96 the training of volunteers in bush fire brigades received a significant boost with the release of 12 new fire fighters' courses.
The new modular courses provided fire fighters with all the knowledge they required on fighting fires and they had been aligned to the Australian Fire Competency Standards.
"This means that for the first time the board will provide volunteer fire fighters with a trade and career path that can be accepted by their employer as a national qualification," Mr Wiese said.
Fires during the 1995-96 season caused more than $5.5 million damage to property and 58 per cent of the fires attended were suspected to be deliberately lit.
Fires which escaped from legal burns were the next major cause of bush fires.
Mr Wiese said 342 fires, or 14 per cent, were caused in this manner and the Bush Fires Board would address the issue with Chief Bush Fire Control Officers before the coming season.
He said the annual report also recognised the importance of public awareness of fire prevention, which was heightened with the launch of the Community Fireguard project in WA.
The program was designed to reduce hazard and risk by encouraging householders to form small street groups to assist each other in case of a fire emergency.
"The key to the new Fireguard program is to equip householders with practical strategies to minimise their bush fire vulnerability," Mr Wiese said.
"The strategies include cleaning out gutters, clearing fuel from around homes and buildings, identifying safe houses and planning for safe evacuation of residents most at risk, such as the elderly."
An 18-month pilot program, funded by Western Power and the fire agencies, is currently taking place in the Shires of Mundaring, Kalamunda and Armadale.
Media contact: Mark Thompson 222 9595