BUSHFIRE Reconstruction and Recovery Authority chief Christine Nixon said firefighters, already traumatised from the fires, were now under extra stress since recent royal commission hearings into the bushfires.
She said firefighters' families had approached her when she visited fire-affected towns and said: "We were heroes to start with and now we are being treated appallingly."
"And it's not just about the royal commission," Ms Nixon said.
"Some of the emergency services feel like they have been badly treated but I think we've still got a time to go with the commission until we see what they actually say … it's not for me to judge whether it's fair or not."
Ms Nixon's comments follow those from Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland, who this week said emergency services had been "very unfairly dealt with" by the royal commission.
Premier John Brumby also defended Country Fire Authority chief Russell Rees, who was criticised by lawyers at the commission.
But while Mr Rees repeatedly came under the spotlight over his management of the disaster, firefighters were not criticised during the hearings.
Senior firefighters who spoke to The Age last night said the reputation of volunteers had not been tarnished, though many had felt the commission had targeted the CFA.
Neil Beer, Yea CFA group captain, said the royal commission, particularly in its first week of hearings, appeared "very harsh" in its criticism of the CFA.
"There has been a fair bit of concern amongst members about the way the commission went about its questioning, especially initially. A lot of members were thinking, 'Gee we're getting kicked in the guts now.' "
But he said CFA-run information nights held in recent weeks to explain the royal commission process had placated most concerns.
"The members that have attended those nights certainly do feel a fair bit better than they did originally. And the volunteers, generally speaking, are still held in very high esteem in the community."
David Gamble, who, with wife Barbara, serves on the Acheron CFA, said the volunteers who fought the Black Saturday fires were respected in their communities.
"The crews on the trucks performed exceptionally. Where it all came apart was the incident controllers and above, who were totally out of their depth."
Also yesterday, the head of Victorian Environmental Protection Agency, Mick Bourke, was announced as the CFA's new chief executive.
Mr Bourke will take over the CFA in September and oversee major structural reform in the wake of the Black Saturday fires, CFA chairman Kerry Murphy said. "Following the Black Saturday fires and matters already raised before the Bushfires Royal Commission, significant change will be required leading up to the next fire season," Mr Murphy said.
Mr Bourke declined to be interviewed.
The State Government announced yesterday that Australia's long-awaited telephone early warning system should be in place before this year's bushfire season.
Telstra and Optus have been invited to tender for the National Emergency Warning System, under which authorities would send alert messages to selected phones.
But Premier John Brumby conceded the system would be imperfect this summer, as phones would be selected by their billing address. As a result, people visiting a fire-prone area on a day of intense risk would not necessarily receive a phone warning.
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