Former captain hits out at CFA

Peter Kennedy | Bendigo Weekly | 25-Jan-2018

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Former Eaglehawk CFA captain Hayden Allen. Photo: Andrew Perryman.
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A FORMER Eaglehawk Country Fire Authority brigade captain has defended his behaviour, and that of fellow brigade members, regarding a series of incidents involving CFA volunteers that have drawn widespread criticism and condemnation.

Speaking to the Bendigo Weekly on Tuesday, an emotional and at times close to tears Hayden Allen continued to describe the incident involving a 17-year-old female volunteer being dragged across the station floor and sprayed with water as one that had been taken dramatically out of context, and said he and his fellow volunteers were the victims of a politically motivated witch hunt.

He said senior management within the CFA was out to prove a point in releasing details of the incident, which became the subject of a broader investigation into the behaviour and culture within the Eaglehawk brigade, culminating in this week’s release of a damning report into its leadership and culture.

“I think with the current political climate of the CFA and where they are at trying to prove a point to keep their positions of senior management,” he said.

“I think they wanted to get on the front foot and I don’t agree with the way they got on the front foot.

“Two days beforehand we were told ‘could you imagine if this got to the media’ and the next day we were told it was going to the media.”

The report’s findings also include a claim the 17-year-old volunteer was once restrained with duct tape to the bull bar of a fire truck, a claim not denied by Mr Allen.

The CFA’s report into the November 27 incident and subsequent revelations that it was not an isolated incident paints a picture of a station the organisation says was led by a captain whose behaviour “demonstrates a lack of judgement and awareness of his responsibilities as a leader. The behaviour did not meet the values of CFA nor community expectations.”

The report also raises concerns about Mr Allen’s behaviour and interaction with younger members of the brigade, who are described as being at an impressionable age, and were being inducted into a culture that is the antithesis of CFA values and the code of conduct.

Mr Allen was equally critical of the CFA and the state government for its early intervention into the incident and its aftermath, despite there being an ongoing investigation at the time.

“I don’t think the government should have stepped in as quickly as they did,” he said.

“There was going to be an investigation launched but then the next minute they had to have their two cents worth because it was going to make them current, what they want to do with the CFA, their way of splitting the CFA, it wanted to make… to prove a point. That was their way to help push the subject of the CFA split.”

Mr Allen said he was also disappointed his identity was released – which he said was in breach of CFA’s own privacy policy, a day after he and his fellow brigade members were suspended, and that this had led to threats against him through social media and his personal Facebook page.

“I believe that the CFA have failed in their duty of care. I was still a member even though I was suspended,” he said.

Mr Allen said he had been in contact with the 17-year-old female volunteer involved in the November 27 incident that led to his suspension, and was heavily critical of the CFA for going around showing an unedited copy of the footage to journalists around Victoria, a process which in its report the organisation defends as being in the interests of transparency.

He maintains that incident has been taken completely out of context and subsequently blown out of proportion.

“And now that I have been able to view the footage… you can see why it was taken out of context so quickly. But without letting all parties involved explain what was happening and in the meantime CFA media team running around narrating it to media outlets…. I find that pretty disgusting,” Mr Allen said.

“The way to deal with it would be for the brigade to manage it in-house and actually ask those involved what they thought of the incident rather than running straight to CFA headquarters.”

Mr Allen served 16 years with the CFA’s Eaglehawk brigade before he resigned on December 22, a decision he said was motivated not by his involvement in the incident that led to his earlier suspension, but because of the way he believed he had subsequently been treated by the CFA.

“I think it’s been blown that far out of proportion, the trial by media and the way that the organisation has portrayed and narrated the incident without them talking to us before we had even been investigated – I think that’s appalling.”

His resignation letter, seen by the Bendigo Weekly, describes how Mr Allen believes he and his fellow volunteers had been bullied by the upper levels of the CFA, and the affects this has had on him.

“I just want people to know, I didn’t resign because of the incident, I resigned because of the way that it was handled by upper levels of management within the CFA,” he said.

The letter accuses the CFA of unconscionable conduct in its management of the alleged incident, and Mr Allen says he feels he has been unfairly targeted by the outgoing CFA CEO, the media, and the investigators that conducted the investigation.

In his resignation letter, Mr Allen also said he had wanted to stay with the CFA and defend himself, and to see if he could improve and grow from this experience, but he now believes he has been treated so unfairly by CFA that he cannot continue to subject himself to “such unfair and callous treatment” from the organisation.

The CFA report acknowledges Mr Allen’s resignation and states any subsequent attempt to re-join by the former Eaglehawk brigade captain would be rejected.

Other members who participated in the various incidents have been subject to disciplinary action pursuant to Regulation 44 of the Country Fire Authority Regulations 2014.

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