The ACT's Emergency Services Agency will run training exercises in major incidents after staff said they felt unprepared to respond to Canberra's six-week fire crisis.
It came as ACT Emergency Service Minister Mick Gentleman faced accusations that he failed to deal with long-held frustrations among volunteer firefighters, fueling the anger which spilled over during and in the aftermath of the summer season.
While the two reviews of the ACT's bushfire season published last month broadly praised the handling of the crisis, they both identified shortcomings and put forward recommendations to improve the response to future fire emergencies.
The independent review noted that staff were deployed interstate at the start of Australia's horror 2019-20 fire season, which provided them with valuable experience.
But despite those experiences, the review said there was a perception among staff, including those based inside the incident management team, that they weren't prepared to handle an emergency which lasted longer than two or three days.
The ACT was under a state of alert for almost 40 days from the start of January, as the agency responded to threats from NSW and then inside the territory. The crisis peaked in late January when the Beard and Orroral Valley fires threatened homes in Queanbeyan and Tuggeranong respectively.
"They (staff) found the length of campaign daunting, raising concerns about not having practiced the application of their qualifications sufficiently before being involved in response management," the report found.
"As it ... scaled in response to worsening conditions over an extended season there was a view that there was a growing mismatch of qualifications, commitment, competency, and availability."
The review recommended the Emergency Services Agency run a series of annual training exercises in responding to major bushfires.
The agency has already adopted the recommendation, with a spokeswoman saying preparations for the training exercise was almost complete and the simulation would be staged ahead of the fire season.
"This exercise is complimentary to other, smaller scale exercises managed and conducted by the ESA that are designed to test, provide development opportunity and assure the ESA Commissioner of the agency's ability to manage all elements of incident management," the spokeswoman said.
"All exercises are in addition to practical experience staff and volunteers gain during day-to-day operations, on deployments, and when attending routine and interstate training."
Commissioner Georgeina Whelan and Mr Gentleman last week fronted the ACT Legislative Assembly's bushfire inquiry, where they were peppered with questions about concerns volunteers raised over summer, including a belief they were undervalued and under-utilised by their paid officers.
Commissioner Whelan said the agency had worked extremely hard" in recent months to address the problems, noting that acting rural fire service chief officer Rohan Scott had been meeting with brigade captains as part of efforts to "reset" the relationship with volunteers.
Opposition emergency services spokeswoman and committee chair Giulia Jones largely absolved the first-year commissioner of responsibility for the tensions which emerged over summer, instead pointing the finger at Mr Gentleman.
When asked if he knew of simmering frustration inside the brigades prior to this year, Mr Gentleman said he was aware, but that he "could not see a resolution" before the fire season started.
Mrs Jones seized on that comment, rhetorically asking Mr Gentleman how many years (four) he had served as the ACT's emergency services minister.
Mr Gentleman then asserted that the issues had been resolved, saying that in terms of the training provided to volunteers he saw "no deficiencies".
His comments came despite the knowledge that it was because of a lack of training that the agency banned volunteers from using lights and sirens while driving to fire emergencies ahead of last summer. The agency has since designed a driver training program, which started over the weekend.
Mrs Jones laughed off Mr Gentleman's claim.
"You coming into this place and saying they were resolved is a complete nonsense and everyone knows that," she said.