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Black Saturday will never be forgotten

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07 Feb 2014
A message from the Fire Services Commissioner

Victoria’s 2009 bushfires reached the hearts of all Victorians with many people knowing someone directly or indirectly who was touched by the tragedy.

Everyone who was in the State on that awful day will recall for the rest of their lives the conditions that led to the worst bushfire disaster in Australia’s history.

The 173 deaths and more than 2,000 homes lost in an afternoon of horror are the bald statistics of the event, the real pain of which endures every day in the hearts and minds of countless Victorians five years later.

After every major bushfire, after the flames and last embers have been extinguished, many people remain physically and emotionally scarred and displaced – for years, sometimes even decades.

It goes without saying that it is our duty to continue to support our fellow Victorians who have suffered and to honour the memories of those who perished.

The 7th February 2009 resulted in death, destruction and displacement of people which has driven the need for change. It is fair to say that the process of learning and change started the following day.

The 2009 bushfires were subject to an exhaustive Royal Commission of inquiry. That led to a series of fundamental changes, many of which are largely invisible to the public eye. But they are fundamental. These are changes to complex systems, processes and cultures. The three main fire services remain, but they work in a much more joined up, integrated fashion to deliver a single outcome that puts the community first.

The primacy of human life is more obviously at the forefront of all of our activities. That is why the advice to leave a high bushfire area well in advance of a bushfire threat is so prominent in our communications. It is the safest option.

Likewise, information and advice to the public is delivered in an integrated and varied way. The advice is as timely and relevant as it can be. The means of delivering this are improving all the time.

There have been changes to how and where we can build in bushfire prone areas, in the detection and policing of arson, and in the measures to prevent bushfires starting from power lines.

Today we must remember, reflect upon and respect the experience of Black Saturday as we move on, remembering also the sacrifice of our volunteer and career firefighters and the large number of personnel that work to plan for, respond to, and help communities recover from emergencies in Victoria.

Victoria is and always has been a place where bushfires occur. In itself that will not change. We need to accept that reality and adapt to it, to build bushfire into our lives in a realistic way and to do it together, the emergency services, community, Government and business.

Each year since 2009 we have rightly marked 7th February. The memories of those whose lives were lost, of those who were left behind, of those who were displaced and those who continue to struggle to rebuild lives remain a driver for change. This change must and will be long term and sustainable. We must never forget the hard lessons, and we must never stop learning from them.

Craig Lapsley is Victoria’s Fire Services Commissioner.


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