Report 17

Support and Preparedness of Fire and Emergency Services Volunteers

Membership and training data is inaccurate

DFES knows volunteer records are inaccurate. A 2012 DFES review found inaccuracies in key volunteer information and concluded that this posed operational and administrative risks. The review attributed the inaccuracies to the membership system, manual processing and workloads at regional offices. Three years later, we found that the same risks remain.

In 2012, prior to the introduction of Operational Readiness Reviews, DFES commissioned an internal review of its volunteer workforces’ capacity to meet operational needs. The review assessed the records of both DFES and LG volunteers (whose records are incorporated in DFES’ systems).

The review found that out of date volunteer membership records had caused a 24 per cent overstatement in volunteer numbers. Our own sample in 2015 found a 21 per cent error rate. DFES depends on its regional offices to update and maintain volunteer membership data for its own volunteers and for LG volunteers. Our site visits confirmed that heavy workload and low task priority affect the capacity to do this job.

Considerable uncertainty exists about the reliability of DFES systems on whether a volunteer is active or non-active. The DFES review showed that around 55 per cent of volunteers self-identified as active, while 89 per cent of these said they responded to incidents giving a response capability of 49 per cent.

However, DFES incident records show that of the 29 000 registered DFES and LG volunteers, only 4 733 (16 per cent) actually attended an incident in 2013-14. It is likely that the incident records are inaccurate given that DFES relies on volunteers to record this information and input it into its incident database. Nevertheless, volunteers confirmed during our site visits that only a core group of volunteers turn out for most incidents.

There are also weaknesses in the collection and maintenance of volunteer training records. In 2012, DFES identified that its training record management system was not user friendly and accessibility was limited to a few key members of staff. It also found that there were different processes to enter data. For example, some DFES staff use manual records in addition to the information in the training system and these are sometimes different. Possible causes are changes in coding of training modules and human error in data entry. There are also no consequences or incentives for updating records. While on site visits, volunteers at all locations and from various services told us their training records were not kept up-to-date.

DFES is in the process of implementing an Enterprise Training Management System that should improve how it manages and maintains volunteer training records. More information on this is provided later under the heading ‘Volunteer training has improved but access can be difficult.’

As discussed earlier in this report, volunteer groups often do not meet their minimum skill profiles. The Volunteer Operational Readiness Reviews we reviewed pointed to inaccurate training records as a potential reason for capability against skill profiles being so low. DFES is limited in its ability to plan training for volunteers without reliable data. Poor data also affects DFES’ ability to make informed decisions about skill profiles and operational capabilities.

Page last updated: August 20, 2015

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