A group of disaffected Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers involved in the devastating Yeoval bushfires two years ago launched an independent representative association yesterday.
More than 50 RFS volunteers supported by the NSW Shires Association and the NSW Farmers Association rallied at Goobang National Park to launch the Volunteer Fire Fighting Association (VFFA).
VFFA president and Parkes RFS group captain Peter Cannon said the aim of the association was to provide volunteer firefighters with independent representation.
"Our members need an independent voice," he told the Daily Liberal.
"The current organisation, the Rural Fire Service Association (RFSA), is not a true representative body for the volunteers because half its members are salaried RFS staff.
"We, the VFFA, are here to represent the 69,000 volunteer firefighters who selflessly give their time each year to save lives, the environment and property."
Dubbo district RFS superintendent John Jenks, who is a salaried officer, said he could not see the point in having a new organisation to represent the volunteers.
"I think it's a wasted effort when they have an existing organisation in place," he said.
"Every volunteer who joins the RFS automatically gains membership to the RFSA, which is an effective voice for all our members."
RFSA president Steve York, also a salaried officer, accused Mr Cannon and his breakaway group of causing division in the service.
"I question the value of establishing a factional group," he said.
"The RFSA has even numbers of volunteers and salaried staff on the committee to provide balanced representation for all the members.
"Mr Cannon should have come to us first - what he's done will cause division."
Mr Cannon said his colleagues were no longer prepared to take lip service from the RFSA, which he said was ruled by the bureaucracy.
"A lot of our members have been afraid to voice their concerns in the past for fear of retribution from above," Mr Cannon said.
"They won't have to worry about that anymore because they will have the full support of all their VFFA colleagues."
Mr Cannon added the ban on fighting fires in the Goobang National Park, imposed last year, had now been lifted.
"A pilot management program initiated by our members and implemented by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has proven effective," he said.
"The plan called for the widening of fire trails so trucks could pass, the creation of more dams and regular hazard reduction burns.
"The program is working well, our members are happy and the NPWS is happy."
The Yeoval-Goobang fires in December 2001 burnt out 14,000 hectares, 140 kilometres of fencing and destroyed more than 5000 head of stock.