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Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention

The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) currently boasts a volunteer membership of 70,000 members made up of active fire fighters, communication and catering personnel and other support roles.

There has been much debate recently within political circles and the media as to the exact numbers of active fire fighters available to attend fires within NSW with figures quoted, ranging from 28,000 to 45,000 active fire fighters. Whilst the exact figure is unknown, it is a fact that presently less than 30,000 members are registered as being trained in basic bushfire training, which is a prerequisite for being an active fire fighter in the NSWRFS.

Nonetheless, the VFFA contends that a significant portion of active fire fighters are of the baby boomer generation who will reach retirement age over the next 10 years. This situation coupled with an aging population, shifting demographics with many young people leaving rural areas and moving to the city pursing further education and employment may potentially diminish the number of active fire fighters in the NSWRFS available to fight fires.

The VFFA therefore supports the introduction of a range of “incentives” to encourage young people to join the NSWRFS as active fire fighters well as retain as long as practible, experienced fire fighters to lead and mentor the next generation of active fire fighters.
The VFFA is an advocate of incentives that could attract and retain volunteer firefighters and support them in the performance of their duties. However this does not extend to direct financial compensation which could be deemed a form of payment for services, or any other matter which conflicts with the ethos of volunteerism in Australia today.

Incentives that could be considered to recruit and retain active fire fighters could include:-

  • Tax relief for PAYE and self employed volunteers of the NSWRFS;
  • Reimbursement for out of pocket expenses associated with the maintenance of existing fire fighting equipment and the purchase of new fire fighting equipment;
  • Reimbursement for costs incurred while travelling to and from meetings, training and incidents;
  • Reimbursement of telephone costs associated with firefighting;
  • Rebate on drivers licence fees, etag fees, private health insurance fees, TAFE and university fees, council rates, electricity and water bills, public transport costs, car and home insurance policies.
  • The establishment by the Commonwealth government of a volunteer support fund to assist volunteer fire fighters who may suffer financial hardship as a result of being away from their normal employment fighting a bushfire during a protracted bushfire emergency that exceeds 7 days. For example, a self employed volunteer fire fighter and other firefighters whose employer is unable or unwilling to support their absence from work.

Recommendations

That the commonwealth government consider the introduction of a range of incentives to attract young people to join the NSWRFS as well as retain the services of experienced active fire fighters to lead and mentor the next generation of active fire fighters. Such incentives could include tax relief, reimbursement of expenses incurred while participating in fire services activities and the establishment of a volunteer support fund to assist volunteer fire fighters who may suffer financial hardship as a result of being away from their normal employment fighting a bushfire during a protracted bushfire emergency that exceeds 7 days. For example, self employed volunteers.

Author: Michael Scholz

VFFA Executive Council Member

RFS volunteer 34 years service

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