CFA fights to keep numbers

CFA fights to keep numbers

16 October 2009

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Australia — While the head of the CFA yesterday warned about the difficulties of evacuating high-risk bushfire areas, the organisation is facing another big task – how to keep its volunteer workforce.

CFA chief officer Russell Rees said he did not know how approximately 4000 residents from outer-suburban Warrandyte could be evacuated in a hurry.

He said the area did not have a freeway, and its road system would not cope if everyone wanted to leave ”when the fire is coming over the hill” on catastrophic bushfire days.

”It is an incredibly difficult thing to do,” Mr Rees said on ABC radio.

In high-risk areas, the best message and safest option for residents was to leave early – even the day before – when the worst bushfires threatened, he said.

Submissions by the Warrandyte Community Association to the 2009 Bushfire Royal Commission seemed to support Mr Rees’ views. The association said emergency traffic flow across the Warrandyte bridge was a popular issue, but any road could be blocked by accidents or tree falls.

”Perhaps communicating that our area does not really offer a late-evacuation option … may both encourage more people to leave early, and others to better prepare in the event that they must stay,” the submission said.

The CFA’s annual report showed that the overwhelming majority of the 60,424 CFA workers donated their time.

Last year, volunteer numbers were up marginally, to 58,943.

But acting chief executive Geoff Spring said in the report that the organisation could not expect young people to spend three or four decades with the one body, as their parents and grandparents might have done.

”The phrase ‘time-poor’ is so widely used that it has an almost ubiquitous application,” he said.

”We are a 24-7 emergency services organisation and, without the passionate, selfless dedication of our people, we can’t possibly sustain our service,” he said.

The CFA said major bushfires in 2008-09 pushed expenses from $281.8 million to $400.3 million, and prompted extra State Government funding of about $142.2 million. Estimated damage to buildings and other structures reached $126.5 million.

Mr Spring said 2009 might have been the CFA’s most testing year, but it faced continuing challenges to attract and keep volunteers.

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