Rural firies fight for volunteers
RURAL fire volunteer Max Rogers is just being “frank” when he says more volunteers are needed for Gympie’s rural fire service.
The Rural Fire Fighters Association president said plenty of volunteers had moved away from the region, but no one had replaced them.
“Unfortunately with the demands placed on volunteers not everyone has the time,” he said.
Mr Rodgers summed up the plight of the rural firies when he said “We’re always looking for volunteers”.
At a time when people are increasingly busy with work and lifestyle pressures, more often than not the last thing on the list is volunteering for a community organisation.
Even though this may be the case, the state’s acting assistant commissioner for rural operations, Paul Adock, said Queensland continued to have the best retention rates for rural fire station volunteers around the nation.
In Queensland rural firies stayed in the service for an average of nine years compared to the national average of six-and-a-half years, he said.
“We think that’s a good yard stick (to measure how well Queensland rural firies were doing),” he said .
Recent reports, however, paint a different picture.
Shadow Emergency Services Minister Ted Malone revealed the North Coast region, which encompasses Gympie, had lost 552 rural firefighter volunteers in the past two years.
But Mr Adcock said the true nature of rural fire volunteer numbers was dynamic.
“We can have 35,000 volunteers in any one year. From 3500 to 5000 volunteers come and go. It depends on where you are in the year how much that number fluctuates,” he said.
“In a busy fire period the rate goes up seven per cent.”
Mr Adcock said people weren’t thinking about fires, with more emphasis on flood during the latest rain period.
Other things influenced the numbers of volunteers in any given year, Mr Adcock said, like population, work commitments, seasonal variations and a mobile lifestyle.
“Not everyone volunteered for life,” he said.
“We need to compete for volunteering like any organisation.”
In relation to claims that volunteers were leaving because of government pressure, Mr Adock said that was “not the case at all”.
“We continue to reduce the pressure on rural firefighters by changing administration procedures (and other measures)...so we can increase retention and recruitment rates,” he said.
“We support recruitment and retention because we have to. We have extensive recruitment resources available to brigades that are applied locally.”
He said the state had put a lot of focus into recruitment packages and maintaining volunteers.
Mr Malone said he found out 946 volunteers from Queensland had “walked” in the past two years.
“Not that many years ago our rural fire brigades had nearly 45,000 volunteers…but thousands have walked because they’ve had a gutful,” he said.