Fireys’ big wait for ‘thousands’ of crucial masks
FIREFIGHTERS are still waiting for high-quality respiratory masks more than a year after the State Government promised to issue "thousands" to protect their health.
Former fire commissioner Katarina Carroll promised negative pressure masks that filter 99.95 per cent of particles - known as P3 masks - as a matter of safety after a horror bushfire season in 2018.
But halfway through this summer's unprecedented season, authorities have fallen well short with just 200 masks available.
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland general manager Justin Choveaux said volunteer brigades had been asking for the masks since 2014.
"Fire is a force of nature, it's dangerous … (but) standing in front of fire as it comes toward you defending a home, a P3 mask will give a heightened level of protection," he said.
"But it has to be on the truck to be an option."
He said he understood the rollout was a huge undertaking - one that had been hampered by a lack of training personnel.
"But it's their job to support brigade volunteers, it's not an inconvenience, it's their job," he said.
"They defend communities across the whole country for free.
"It's not too much to ask that the fire service rolls out the appropriate personal protective equipment the brigade volunteers need."
Ms Carroll, who is now the state's police commissioner, promised in December 2018 to "move quickly" on delivering "thousands of masks" to frontline personnel, volunteer firefighters and SES volunteers following what she called "unprecedented and unimaginable" bushfires.
"The safety of our staff and volunteers is paramount," she said at the time.
A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesman said the rollout was "no small task".
"Masks are custom-fit and unique to individuals, so QFES is committed to ensuring training, safety and maintenance mattes are addressed before the deployment of thousands of masks," he said.
But Opposition Fire spokesman Lachlan Millar called for a fast-tracked deployment.
"Queensland's firefighters deserve to go to the frontline with the best equipment available but Labor has broken their promise to deliver crucial protective masks," he said.
"Not even last year's devastating fires across Queensland were enough to prompt Labor to act and get these masks fully deployed.
"Our firefighters do an incredible job and they need to be able to do it safely."
Acting Fire Minister Leeanne Enoch said $10 million over five years would fund the masks, including $1.87 million this financial year.
She said firefighters already had P2 protective masks that met national standards used by all Australian jurisdictions.
"I have been advised that training is currently underway with volunteers in Central and South West Queensland, with the intention of delivering more than 160 P3 masks this month," she said.
They'll be among 800 masks that are due to be delivered this year.
The Courier-Mail will pay tribute to firefighters and volunteers, neighbours who helped neighbours, mates who pitched in and the incredible generosity of Australiand and out friends abroad in a special life-out to be published on Tuesday, January 21. To send your personal note of thanks to our bushfire heroes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org