The future of volunteering in fire and emergency services (Australia wide)

A newsletter (from the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades WA Inc) clearly highlights that volunteer firefighters in Western Australia are endangered unless radical changes to the existing city-centric management occur. The VFFA continues to campaign to protect the future of volunteer firefighters in New South Wales from the same demise.

The decline of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has been documented in their own financial reports as the  images below clearly show.

Images taken from the NSW RFS annual report that show a drop of 1354 volunteer numbers in a 12 month period

The NSW RFS Annual Report for 2014 / 2015 stated that there was a total of 74,516 volunteers. The NSW RFS Annual Report for 2015 / 2016 (one year later) stated that there was a total of 73,162 volunteers, a reduction of 1354 volunteers.

The VFFA questions the validity of the 70,000+ members but it is interesting that the NSW RFS has reported the decline in numbers. It is easy to work out that we don’t have anywhere near 70,000 members, just ask a rural brigade to elaborate on the numbers of people who are actively engaged in brigade activities.

From the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades WA Inc

While it might be news to some, the Association has been consistently making the point for years that increasing red-tape and a poor understanding of why our incredible Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members do what they do for their local communities will continue to result in a decline of volunteerism – particularly in regional areas. And although DFES is still fighting the smart idea to create a specialist Rural Fire Service (RFS), it looks like at least we have finally succeeded in getting the message through that emergency service volunteerism is both invaluable and in danger of leaving the State critically under-resourced.

Although an independent Rural Fire Service won’t fix every problem overnight, it looks like even DFES now recognises that our diverse volunteer family needs specialist understanding and better support… something that a city-centric, para-military bureaucracy simply can not deliver.

Below is a media statement published by DFES on Thursday 11 May 2017.

​The long term future of volunteer emergency response services in Western Australia is in jeopardy as membership numbers continue to fall by more than 300 a year.

There are 26,000 fire and emergency services volunteers across the State, however demographic shifts across WA continue to challenge the sustainability of the volunteer workforce.

WA faces declining numbers of regional volunteers and a steady increase in average age, which is impacting volunteers’ capability and capacity to respond to incidents.

Speaking during National Volunteer Week (Monday 8 May – Sunday 14 May 2017) Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Wayne Gregson APM outlined the Department’s strategy for a modern and more flexible approach to volunteering.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services’ (DFES) Volunteer Sustainability Strategy is a blueprint for increasing volunteer recruitment and retention by:

  • diversifying volunteer roles
  • being more flexible with time commitments, and
  • engaging people through digital and social media.

Commissioner Gregson said the traditional model doesn’t align with the values or the lifestyle commitments of many of today’s young men and women.

“As an emergency services organisation that relies heavily on the support of volunteers, it is essential we change our approach,” Commissioner Gregson said.

“It means evolving in terms of the opportunities on offer and how they can fit in with people’s lives and ability to commit.

“It is also about offering flexible options to volunteers as they age, so we don’t lose their valuable local knowledge and experience.”

Under the new strategy DFES has already commenced a range of initiatives including:

  • research into recruitment and retention in emergency services
  • increasing the competency of volunteer leaders through the Volunteer Leadership Program
  • measures to better communicate with volunteers such as the redevelopment of its volunteer portal
  • redeveloping its cadet programs.

DFES Manager Strategic Volunteer and Youth Programs Jennifer Pidgeon said aside from learning operational skills, volunteering in emergency services gives people the opportunity to develop personal attributes such as leadership skills, team work and tolerance.

“A history of volunteering in emergency services may give people an advantage when it comes to gaining paid employment, as it demonstrates discipline and reliability.”

“It can also be a very rewarding experience, as volunteers make a real difference to people’s lives in their time of need.”

People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to consider volunteering. Visit for more information on volunteering or call your local BGU.


In the last year alone, volunteers were involved in the response to more than 8,700 incidents.

The average age of a fire and emergency services volunteer is 48 years.

DFES coordinates volunteers from the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service, State Emergency Service and the Volunteer Marine Rescue Services, with support also provided to Local Government Bush Fire Brigades.

The Volunteer Sustainability Strategy 2016-2024​ is available on the DFES website.

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