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, according to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.
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.
During National Volunteer Week, which ran from Monday, May 8 to Sunday, May 14 Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Wayne Gregson outlined the department’s strategy for a modern and more flexible approach to volunteering.
Mr Gregson said the department’s volunteer sustainability strategy was 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.
He said the traditional model did not 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,” he 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 the department has already started 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 and redeveloping its cadet programs.
The department’s strategic volunteer and youth programs manager Jennifer Pidgeon said as well as learning operational skills, volunteering in emergency services gave 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,’’ she said.
“It can also be a very rewarding experience, as volunteers make a real difference to people’s lives in their time of need.”
Last year volunteers were involved in the response to more than 8700 incidents.
The average age of a fire and emergency services volunteer is 48 years.
The department 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.
People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to consider volunteering.
For more information volunteer visit dfes.wa.gov.au