Report 17

Support and Preparedness of Fire and Emergency Services Volunteers

Background

Volunteers are a critical part of the state’s response to fires and emergencies that occur every day. They freely give their time to perform what is often demanding and dangerous work. To do this they need to have support for their recruitment and retention, training, counselling, and insurance. Volunteers also require personal protective clothing and specialised vehicles and equipment.

DFES is Western Australia’s lead hazard management agency and is directly responsible for 1 100 career firefighters as well as about 23 per cent of the state’s reported 29 000 fire and emergency services volunteers.

The remaining 77 per cent of volunteers fall under the authority of local governments. LGs administer their own Bush Fire Brigades, with support from DFES. This means that while DFES is accountable for fire and emergency responses, it is not responsible for all volunteers that respond to incidents.

WA’s fire and emergency services protect people and assets during emergencies and natural disasters like fires, storms, road crashes and land and sea searches. In 2013-14, DFES spent around $350 million to deliver these services to the state.

Regional and remote WA rely heavily on fire and emergency volunteers. Of the 800 volunteer service groups across the state, around 700 are located outside the Perth metropolitan area. Of the 28 career fire and rescue stations, only four are located outside of the Perth metropolitan region.

The location of a volunteer will influence the types of incidents to which they respond. For example, in regional areas with low populations, volunteers mainly respond to bushfires. But, near major roads, in large regional towns and in the Perth metropolitan area, there is a mix of incidents such as bushfires, structural fires or road crash rescues.

All volunteers must complete induction training and receive ongoing training to maintain and enhance their skills. Volunteers will train in a range of areas including operational activities, incident control, management, and leadership. Some volunteers actively respond to emergencies and work on the front line. Others perform support roles, doing communication, logistical and administrative activities.

Figure 1 - Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services

[1] The Volunteer Marine Rescue Service (VMRS) accounts for less than five per cent of all fire and emergency services volunteers. They do not fight ground fires and therefore receive different training to other services. In June 2015 changes to legislation meant that the VMRS was funded through the Emergency Services Levy. Prior to this, the VMRS were funded by the state and federal governments.

DFES is involved in the recruitment, training and support of all volunteers. However, its level of involvement is less for volunteers that report to LG.

Most funds for supporting volunteers come from the Emergency Services Levy, which DFES administers. Each year, LGs apply to DFES for funds to cover capital and operating costs of their fire and emergency services.

DFES has undergone considerable change since it formed in 2012 from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA). The restructure was recommended following the Perth Hills Bushfire Review 2011[1] and criticism that FESA had lost focus on operational readiness.

Since its formation, DFES has been an agency in transition. DFES is aware of a number of important issues regarding the management of its volunteers.

In November 2012, DFES started a review of the emergency services Acts, including the Fire Brigades Act 1942, the Bush Fires Act 1954 and the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998. The aim of the review is to create ‘a single comprehensive emergency services Act which will improve community safety and better support all emergency services in the future.’

In April 2014, DFES released a Concept Paper: Review of the Emergency Services Acts. At the time of this audit, the review had entered its final stage, which includes seeking approval to draft and enact Bills.

 

[1] A Shared Responsibility: The Report of the Perth Hills Bushfire February 2011 Review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Page last updated: August 20, 2015

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