Australia —On the eve of what looms as a perilousbushfire season a new report raises serious questions about the nation’svolunteer system of fighting fires.
Across Australia there are about 200,000 volunteers — including 59,000 withVictoria’s Country Fire Authority.
Each season these heroes risk their lives to protect life and property.
As revealed in the Herald Sun yesterday, a study funded by theBushfire Co-operative Research Centre says many volunteers are finding it hardto balance full-time paid work and their family commitments with the many hoursneeded for training and emergency calls.
The centre does research for the fire agencies, including the CFA.
One CFA brigade captain told the Herald Sun he knew volunteers whoseemployers insisted they choose between the CFA or their jobs.
Australia has been fighting fire on the cheap, with the cost born by thevolunteers and their mostly tolerant bosses.
The report’s author, Sean Cowlishaw of La Trobe University, warns of thelikelihood that more fires out of control and burning longer will increasepressures on volunteers.
Their numbers fell until 2004, when the fire agencies boosted recruiting andimproved support for existing volunteers. The ranks have since increasedslightly.
However bushfires are a perennial challenge in this tough environment –now heightened by the drought and global warming.
Anything which could diminish our ability to cope must be taken seriously.
The federal and state governments must heed the report’s warning and researchways of easing the pressure on the selfless volunteers who fight one of ourgreatest enemies.