Australia — Fly-in, fly-out work and spiralling employment demands are robbing WA’s bush fire brigades of young members.
The Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades of WA says the average volunteer firefighter is now aged over 45 and getting older.
The State’s 28,000-strong volunteer firefighter force is stable but in dire need of fresh blood.
Association president Terry Hunter said many country bush fire brigades risked running short of volunteers.
“A lot of brigades are running short on members, partly because of declining populations in rural areas,” he said.
“Because of work hours and work commitments, and also industry is cutting down on fat, so they are reluctant to release younger workers.
“We are crucial, there is no way the State Government could afford to provide the sort of cover that volunteer fireys do,” he said.
Mr Hunter said he had seen a slow decline in some areas and it was not uncommon for volunteers to rack up decades in the job. “There are some who have done 60 years or more,” he said.
Fire and Emergency Services Authority volunteer and youth manager Wayne Fanderlinden said some volunteer firefighters were in their 80s.
Fly-in, fly-out had also affected brigades in some towns.
“We are very short in Halls Creek, Wyndham and Kununurra,” Mr Hunter said.
Capel firefighter John James joined his local bush fire brigade almost 60 years ago, when they fought with little more than wet sacks and tree branches. While he can now enjoy an air- conditioned fire truck, the 77-year-old’s dedication to his brigade remains the same.
Even breaking his neck in a fall at home 14 months ago did not stop the great-grandfather, recently stepping into a new role as equipment officer. Told by doctors he is lucky to even be walking, Mr James said all he wanted to do was get back out and lend a helping hand. “I just love doing things for other people,” he said.