DOUBT has been cast on Victoria's preparations for this fire season after a senior lawyer for the Bushfires Royal Commission questioned whether new plans for days of severe fire risk were any different than they were on February 7.
The Country Fire Authority's deputy chief officer, John Haynes, told the royal commission that the CFA and Department of Sustainability and Environment were preparing for a ''worst-case scenario'' where up to 12 incident-management teams would be needed to manage simultaneous serious fires this summer, with plans in place to fly in experienced personnel from interstate if numbers fell short.
He said that level-three fires of the kind seen in Kinglake, Marysville and Callignee on Black Saturday would be run by incident-management teams of at least 30 people to ensure community warnings and information were prioritised. But under questioning by senior counsel assisting the commission Rachel Doyle, SC, Mr Haynes said that he could not guarantee that a level-three-qualified incident controller would be ready for the start of a fire in every instance.
This would mean a level-two incident controller could be in charge of a fire until a more experienced controller arrived, as happened with the Kinglake and Marysville fires on Black Saturday.
Ms Doyle asked: ''Isn't that exactly where we were in February this year? We were aiming for [level] three, but we sometimes got two?''
''Not at all,'' Mr Haynes replied. ''Output is the main thing, not how many people are in the building.''
Ms Doyle later suggested that the time it took for a more qualified incident controller to arrive could be ''crucial'' to the initial firefight and in warning communities.
Mr Haynes said these were roles that any of eight core team members would be able to do.
The commission has repeatedly heard of instances where inexperienced incident controllers were put in place in the initial stages of a fire on Black Saturday, or where more experienced incident controllers were inexplicably overlooked.
Mr Haynes said the CFA and the DSE currently had a combined pool of 93 level-three incident controllers and the CFA had endorsed an extra 10 since February 7.
But he estimated that only 50 per cent of the total pool would be available on any given day.
The commission was told that a statewide forecast for a day of severe fire danger or worse would trigger preparations for the 12 incident-management teams.
The hearings continue.
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