Australia — WA’s country bushfire brigades will face severe shortages in the coming years as the number of young volunteers continues to fall, the Association of Volunteer Bushfire Brigades (AVBB) has warned.
According to AVBB president Terry Hunter, the average age of volunteer fire-fighters is now more than 45 and in some rural areas, the average is as high as 60.
Mr Hunter said rural areas were the hardest hit, thanks to the declining population and growing number of fly-in, fly-out workers.
“The mining industry is having an affect, because when workers return home, if they’re from a farming or grazing area, they’ve got work to do on the farm,” Mr Hunter said. “And if they’re from the urban interphase area, their families want them around.”
Mr Hunter said unless the younger generation had a change in attitude towards volunteering, there would be a major shortfall in the next 10 years.
“For communities to be self-reliant, the only way they can do that is to have volunteers, as there is no way that any government, no matter what persuasion they are, could afford to put sufficient emergency workers out there in the field to cover what volunteers do,” he said.
“The 28,000-strong volunteer force is stable but desperately lacks young blood.
“Membership in some areas is definitely dropping, due to the lack of rural people in the area.”
Mr Hunter urged young people in rural areas to consider joining their local volunteer brigade but said paying volunteers was not a solution to the looming crisis.
“A lot of money and time is being exerted across all volunteer groups throughout Australia, to find out how we can attract and retain volunteers,” he said.
“Because retaining them is just important as attracting them.”
Volunteer Emergency Services Association president John Iffla, who is based in Bremer Bay, said communities in his region were well served but agreed a shortage was a possibility in the coming years.
“Normally with most volunteer organisations it is the older people who do it anyway, you won’t get 18 to 25-year-olds,” he said.
“The association is trying to encourage locals to return to volunteering through its fire mitigation programs.
“When we do fire mitigation around town, we’re training people and making them more aware and this has helped us treble the number of volunteers in our area.”