Report 17

Support and Preparedness of Fire and Emergency Services Volunteers

Key findings

  • DFES does not know how many volunteers it needs. It has not assessed the number of volunteers required in specific locations to respond to incidents. Without a clear understanding of this, DFES cannot know if it has gaps in its service capability and the seriousness of those gaps. DFES advised it will be creating risk profiles for all services, that take into account physical and human resources before the end of 2015.

Read more: DFES does not know how many volunteers there are or how many it needs

  • DFES knows that volunteer membership records are inaccurate and that volunteer numbers are about 20 per cent less than the reported 29 000. This is due in part to both DFES and LGs relying on manual systems to update volunteer records. Further, a significant number of volunteers do not regularly respond to incidents. DFES records do not accurately reflect volunteer availability. Incomplete volunteer training records contribute to this issue, as DFES does not have a clear picture of volunteers trained to respond.

Read more: Membership and training data is inaccurate

  • Data trends show that volunteer turnover has been an ongoing issue since 2006, with an annual turnover of around 15 per cent across all services. Exit surveys and our discussions with volunteers identified issues around management and supervision styles (of other volunteers and DFES staff) and not feeling valued. To address increasing turnover, DFES is developing an Emergency Services Volunteer Workforce Sustainability Strategy. Although aimed to start in 2014, the draft strategy has still not been circulated for consultation. DFES expect to circulate the strategy by September 2015.

Read more: Turnover is increasing across all volunteer services

  • DFES knows what operational skills its volunteers need and has developed training programs based on this. However, geographic isolation, availability of trainers and assessors, and inaccurate training records affect training delivery. This means, volunteers may not be appropriately skilled to respond to incidents, potentially leading to significant safety risks.

Read more: Volunteer training has improved but access can be difficult

  • Almost 82 per cent of the respondents to our statewide survey of volunteers said that they had all or most of the equipment they needed to perform their roles. This result was backed by our discussions with volunteers at the sites we visited. However, a few volunteer groups raised concerns around the suitability of some equipment for their local conditions and delays in getting equipment, particularly personal protective clothing.

Read more: Most volunteers have the equipment they need

  • Existing DFES policies do not address volunteer fatigue and as a result, volunteers must self-manage their fatigue. This carries considerable risks when volunteers do not manage their fatigue effectively. For example, it is not unusual for volunteers to respond to an incident after already having worked a full day of paid employment. Fatigue can be physically and mentally hazardous for volunteers and may be a significant occupational health and safety risk during an incident.

Read more: The management of fatigue amongst volunteers needs improvement

  • While volunteers were generally happy with the recognition, counselling, and insurance provided by DFES, some issues exist. Primarily, volunteers and some DFES staff are confused around what services are available to which volunteers. This means that volunteers may not access services such as counselling when required. Planned changes to legislation should help address these issues, but DFES will need to communicate availability of services more effectively.

Read more: Support services are provided to volunteers, but there are some weaknesses

Page last updated: August 20, 2015

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