New SA Country Fire Authority chief has bridges to build with volunteers

By Stephen Easton

Monday August 26, 2019

The South Australian Country Fire Authority will be led from next month by British firefighter Mark Jones, who played a key role in recent reforms to ACT emergency service management.

Jones said he was attracted to the South Australian lifestyle as well as working with a group of “highly-valued volunteers” but he might have some bridges to build with the Country Fire Service Volunteers Association, which did not support his appointment.

“The South Australian Country Fire Service consists of a dedicated and valued group of people and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with such a respected organisation,” Jones said in a statement.  “I am keen to get on the road and meet the volunteers we depend upon.”

The CFSVA board set its own criteria for the new chief — the person would need experience leading a similar volunteer emergency service workforce and “extensive knowledge and understanding of the Australian topography in relation to fire behaviour” in the association’s view. It also had a representative on the selection panel who did not believe Jones fit the bill.

The Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services, Corey Wingard, said he had contacted the CFSVA in late June and offered to meet its representatives but was disappointed the group had not accepted the invitation and instead made its views public.

Wingard said Jones, a former chief of Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire and Rescue Service in the UK, had gained “significant experience at working with volunteer organisations” in a career spanning over 30 years.

“Crucially, Mr Jones also has an extensive background in working with the International Firefighters Association — an organisation with about five million members, the majority of whom are volunteers,” the minister said in a statement.

He was also deputy chief of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, and moved to Canberra to lead an internal reform process in the ACT Emergency Services Agency a few years ago before returning to the UK where he is currently the Head of Resilience and Specialist Assets for London Ambulance.

Jones chaired the UK’s Forest Fires Commission between 2005 and 2010 and “his achievements were noted by the UK Government as a vital connection to the volunteer community” according to Wingard, who emphasised his experience leading volunteers several times.

“Mr Jones is about as highly-credentialled of an applicant we could have hoped for and will be an asset to the Country Fire Service and the Emergency Services sector as a whole,” Wingard said.

“His achievements in helping deliver a volunteer-centric culture between firefighters was also noted by the selection panel.

“I look forward to working with Mr Jones in ensuring the CFS can continue the excellent work it does for all South Australians.”

Jones has completed a program for senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University in 2011 and has worked on European and United Nations committees on firefighting policy development and emergency planning.

He was brought in to review Canberra’s fire and rescue service in 2015 and his report, suggesting where management staff could be cut from the agency, was promptly leaked to the media.

A few months later he was appointed to lead a reform process for the whole ACT Emergency Services Agency, attracting concern from the Canberra branch of the United Firefighters Union based on the experience of its comrades the previous year in the United Kingdom.

In Buckinghamshire, Jones clashed with unions over budget cuts and industrial action got particularly heated in 2014 after one firefighter was sacked for what the agency argued was an illegal strike.

In the same year, Jones was awarded the Queens Fire Service Medal.

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