Australian fire bureaucrats have banned a union email commemorating the tragic deaths of 19 US firefighters in Arizona this week, claiming the condolence message was irrelevant.
The United Firefighters Union, that boasts 13,300 members nationally, sends regular bulletins to firefighters through their work email addresses and on Monday dispatched an advisory conveying “sympathy and support” to “those injured and to the families of those that have perished”:
“These brave firefighters have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting their community. Our thoughts are with their serving brothers and sisters, and the families and friends. No doubt this greatly affects the townships in the area and affect the firefighting community world-wide.”
But a slapdown sent 90 minutes later by Melbourne-based Metropolitan Fire Brigade Director of Governance Blair Trask said the alert had been barred because it “does not relate to the business or operations” of the fire brigade.
Australian firies boast formal links with their US brothers (and sisters) through the International Association of Fire Fighters and regularly undertake training and intelligence sharing exercises with global affiliates. On Monday afternoon, it is likely only some local firefighters would have been aware of the tragedy.
The wipe-out of the Arizona brigade has dominated the global media in recent days. Disturbing reports emerging from the US this morning said that the lone survivor of the 20 member “Granite Mountain Hotshots”, 21-year-old Brendan McDonough, only evaded death because he was moving a truck when flames overcame his comrades.
UFU national secretary Peter Marshall told Crikey today the “MFB should be holding its head in shame”.
“I would have thought that a commemoration of the tragic deaths of 19 of our colleagues would have been enough to overcome that particular procedure,” he said.
The UFU and the MFB are regularly at odds over wage negotiations with the firies’ near-100% membership density weighing heavily on outcomes. At the start of the current round, both sides traded barbs over funding cuts and the reliability of the brigade’s dispatch system. However, it is rarer for management and workers to butt heads over issues of common concern.
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An MFB spokesperson told Crikey that “we do allow the UFU to communicate to all of our staff via our email system but we have policies that we review for adherence and one of those principles is that it needs to relate to MFB’s business or operations.”
But couldn’t an exception have been made in this case? “We’re certainly not saying it isn’t a tragic issue, what we are saying is that this is not the channel for it,” they said.
UPDATE 5pm: Three hours after this story ran today, the MFB broke its own rules and posted a message (read it here) from Shane Wright, Chief Officer, Executive Director Emergency Management, about Arizona — 48 hours after the one they censored. Firefighting sources say the MFB email system has recently carried all-staff messages about a golf day, the Blue Ribbon ball and a basketball competition, but not the UFU message about the US tragedy.