DELWP risks Firefighters' safety

Wednesday 01st March 2017

DELWP is desperately trying to cover its tracks after a disastrous $15 million investment so far in vehicles that leave Forest Firefighters, and the public estate which they protect, at serious risk.


Australian Workers’ Union Victorian Secretary Ben Davis said the new DELWP fleet of 112 Mercedes G Wagons, which went back into full service last Friday (24 February), were not fit for purpose and should not have been rolled out until they were.


“The G Wagon has a series of problems. It was pulled out of service late last year after instances of the engine shutting down without warning,” Mr Davis said.


“It was then put back into service with all sorts of provisos about where it could go, which was recognition that there are serious issues. Our members are now expected to use them without restriction, and without evidence problems have been resolved.”


The restricted use, enforced until last week, dictated they were not to be used in bushfire response unless there was a threat to property or life. They could then only be used if they were accompanied by a vehicle that was not a G Wagon, with sufficient seating so that personnel could be evacuated safely if the G Wagon failed.


Last week a rear brake pad caught fire, which confirmed fears the brakes would overheat in steep terrain. The G Wagon’s low engine compression means four wheel drive cannot be used in reverse, so the driver has to rely entirely on the brakes.


“It defies belief that DELWP would purchase a four wheel drive vehicle that can’t four wheel drive in reverse, and performs so poorly in the steep and dangerous terrain that our members protect,” Mr Davis said.


“And the fuel caps leak, despite tight seals. Diesel leakage is not a good idea on a firefighting vehicle, neither are brakes that catch fire.”


DELWP has consistently failed to provide evidence of its claim that the engine shutting down was a result of fuel contamination, which it said had been remedied by replacing a fuse in the fuel pump.  Mercedes had refused to release its own engineering report. In turn, DELWP refused to release its independent engineering assessment of the Mercedes report, Mr Davis said. 


G Wagons were first introduced in June 2016 as ultra-light tankers with 630-litre water tanks, a significant improvement on the 400-litre capacity of older vehicles, thereby allowing Forest Firefighters to stay longer on fire grounds.


“We ask our Forest Firefighters to go out and defend the state in the worst of times, the very least they deserve is safe vehicles that are fit for purpose.”