The effects of Tasmania’s bushfire crisis, after several weeks of emergency situations around the state, are only just being realised.
Thankfully, at this stage there has been no loss of life and limited property loss, but the damage to agriculture and forestry will take years if not longer to recover.
Like firefighters and other emergency workers, Tasmania Police feel the effects of being on the frontline. In no way do we want to take away from the extraordinary efforts of the firefighting community, especially the volunteers within Tasmania Fire Service and the State Emergency Service (SES) who sacrifice their own time and safety for the communities they serve so well.
We just want to bring into the spotlight the effect such protracted incidents have on Tasmania Police, whose role it is to support the lead management authority, the Tasmania Fire Service.
Our members, on the frontline and within support commands, do what has to be done immediately without question.
This means working long hours above their normal shift cycles, with minimal breaks between shifts to decompress and relax.
Some of our members worked 80-hour weeks with little or no respite.
In order to resource an adequate response our members have had their leave postponed and or days off cancelled and replaced with overtime.
Normally these types of situations only last a short time but like the fires of 2013, this emergency has lasted much longer.
When these situations occur, Tasmania Police surges resources to respond accordingly.
What those outside of emergency services community don’t see is that business continuity must still occur.
While Tasmania Police officers are drawn away from their core responsibilities, their workload does not decrease. It doesn’t remain stagnant either, it continues to grow and as the response continues this burgeons and for some work areas takes a great deal of time from which to recover.
This fatigue doesn’t end when the last fire is extinguished for our members either. For some, who have worked a 12-hour shift overnight, they then have to sit in a courtroom all day waiting for their case to be heard.
The Police Association of Tasmania has long advocated for an end to this practice.
How any person in the modern age can accept this as fair, reasonable and safe workplace practice beggars belief.
The judiciary views police as professional witnesses and expect them to provide high-quality evidence. How, in a fatigued state, is this possible? If driving fatigued equates to a high level of intoxication how is this situation different?
All emergency service workers, full time or volunteer step up to do their chosen job because of an innate desire to help people.
No matter what the challenge, they go forward and approach unavoidable high risk, a trait that only a small part of our community is willing to do or acknowledge exists.
For police, this means 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year and no matter what extra emergencies exist around them, they just add it to their already unsustainable workloads and their diminished frontline resources.
Police also have the unenviable position no other emergency service has. They sometimes have to use force and ultimately can take the life of another human being for protection of themselves or others within the community.
These details often get forgotten about in times of emergency, so it’s timely we ask everyone to stop and think about all the emergency service workers out there right now and think about how their time away from family and work is adding to their personal stress.
Recently our members lost a colleague and friend. They kept on going at work for the community while grieving.
Please remember this next time your own actions draw the attention of the police or another emergency service and you are offended if you may receive a blunt response. Because sometimes it happens — it’s human nature and police are nothing if not human.
Andrew Bennett is assistant secretary of the Police Association of Tasmania.