Fire authority to investigate incident

Sharon Kemp | Bendigo Weekly | 08-Dec-2017

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THE Eaglehawk CFA captain suspended for his alleged involvement in the manhandling of a young female volunteer has sought legal advice as the authority prepares to begin an investigation of the incident.


A source close to captain Hayden Allen said the men involved in the incident captured on CCTV defended their behaviour as “some mates just having a bit of fun” that had been “blown out of proportion by the media”.


On Wednesday the CFA showed media outlets the footage starting at the point male volunteers and the 17-year-old girl get out of a truck at the Eaglehawk station.


Different men at different times then push the woman to the ground, aim a kick at her, drag her along the ground, pull her hair down so hard she doubles over, and finally push her under a truck beneath front-end water sprayers. Another man watches and several others walk past without stopping.


The girl is reported not to have been physically hurt. 


The incident, which happened on November 27, was reported to Victoria Police, who have since reported no complaint was made and no offence was detected.


The CFA has declined to release the video, citing the privacy of the female volunteer. 


“She’s a young girl, she lives in a small town, it would be humiliating and my first interest is actually in protecting her,” CFA chief executive Frances Diver told Melbourne radio.


“Then I go to the point that CFA needs to be transparent about this sort of thing.”


Ms Diver also gave a clear sign the Eaglehawk brigade could be made an example of as the authority seeks to stamp out ingrained practices such as bullying and sexual discrimination that were the subject of Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report.


The release of the report has been held up in legal action by the United Firefighters’ Union.


The Supreme Court is deliberating whether the results can be released.


On Wednesday, Ms Driver said the investigation at Eaglehawk had the potential to broaden to include other members and other historical incidents at the brigade.


The authority has the power to expel volunteer members.


The incident has also prompted renewed calls by the Victorian opposition for a royal commission into the fire services, which shadow emergency services minister Brad Batten said would be held if the Coalition won the 2018 election.


WorkSafe has confirmed it is looking at the footage and released a statement saying workplace bullying was not acceptable under any circumstances.


Emergency services minister James Merlino said the CCTV footage shocked him.


“As minister for emergency services, as a parent, I was disgusted by the treatment of that 17-year-old girl,” he said.


“It is behaviour that is intolerable.”


Mr Merlino said he was satisfied that CFA management responded to the attack appropriately.


“I don’t want to preempt what would occur at the conclusion of this investigation but obviously a number of individuals have been stood down,” he said.


“There may well be other individuals that will be stood down through the investigation and that may well be permanent at the conclusion.”


Mr Allen was contacted for comment.

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