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    Horsham police Senior Sergeant Brendan Broadbent and CFA District 17 operations manager Craig Brittain.

Zero tolerance to fire breaches

By Colin MacGillivray

Expanded capabilities for police in western Victoria will spearhead a zero-tolerance approach to Country Fire Authority permit breaches this fire season.

Horsham police Senior Sergeant Brendan Broadbent said an additional six detectives in the region had been trained as fire investigators, bringing the total from two to eight.

He said the move would allow police to work more closely with the CFA to ensure people adhered to permit conditions during official fire danger periods and days of total fire ban.

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Sen Sgt Broadbent said there had been five fires in the region during the past two weeks alone, including one that destroyed a house and another caused by improperly stored green waste.

He said it was important for people to adhere strictly to the conditions of their permits during fire danger periods.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture of our community so that people don’t stand for others who are reckless in the way they light fires,” he said.

“We want to increase community expectations on what the police will do, but also on what people who are lighting fires do to clean up their properties during a fire danger period.”

Sen Sgt Broadbent said the six new fire-investigation detectives were trained in response to a similar zero-tolerance campaign in conjunction with the CFA last fire season.

He said the success of the approach had been encouraging.

“In the past we haven’t had as great a focus and a priority on it,” he said.

“The strategy was implemented last year and there was a 135-percent increase in the reporting of fires, particularly through the brigades.

“We both agreed it was very successful in that regard, and there were eight people prosecuted during the fire danger period.”

Potential risks

Sen Sgt Broadbent said changing weather conditions during the fire season made it even more important to be aware of potential risks.

“Sometimes people who had lit fires thought they were out and had gone away over the weekend,” he said.

“If people are going away, we want them to look at the weather conditions and if they are going to be conducive to fire, get a family member or friend to drop over and check the fire and ensure it’s not smoking or there is a risk of it reigniting.”

CFA District 17 operations manager Craig Brittain said people found breaching permit conditions would be dealt with seriously.

“There is no room for complacency or negligence and no excuse for saying, ‘I didn’t know it’s a fire danger period’,” he said.

“When a fire danger period comes in, there is a specific set of requirements and restrictions placed on people who want to do burning operations or even just use welders and grinders.

“If people, even if they use a permit, set a fire or do stubble burning outside of the prescriptions of their permit there is absolutely no tolerance: they will be charged.”

Sen Sgt Broadbent said penalties for breaching a permit could amount to a $24,000 fine or two years’ imprisonment, or a combination of both, depending on the severity of the offence.

Mr Brittain said successful prosecution of offenders would help change public perception of the seriousness of permit breaches.

“People see that and say, ‘oh wow, that means when I do this I’ve got to be super careful and comply with all the prescriptions of the permit, otherwise I’m going to end up going to court as well’,” he said.

“It is perhaps not too bad the first time, but we also get people who would be classified as habitual offenders.

“This puts the onus back onto them. If you do this, you’re going to end up with fines and if you get a slap on the wrist this time, any further penalties are going to be a lot more severe.”

Sen Sgt Broadbent encouraged people to make contact with their local council or the CFA if they had any questions about the conditions of their permits.

The entire October 30, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire October 30, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!