How many Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades are there in WA, and how many people are involved across these brigades?
There are over 500 Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades across WA – an incredible 20,000 people are involved in these brigades, not to mention the thousand more farmer response units that are not recognised in state records – giving their time generously to help keep communities across our state safe.
Who is responsible for the management of WA’s Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades?
In WA, Local Governments “own” and “manage” Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades. Contrary to popular belief, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) is not directly responsible for the management of all Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades. All other emergency services (Paid Fire and Rescue, Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services, Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services, Marine Rescue and State Emergency Service) are the legal responsibility of and directly managed by DFES.
How many emergency services volunteers are there in total in WA?
WA is served by more than 26,000 emergency services volunteers working in a variety of roles across the Bush Fire Service, Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services, Marine Rescue and State Emergency Service.
As you can see by the number, Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members make up over 75% of all emergency services volunteers in WA.
In addition, DFES employ 1200 paid firefighters.
What contribution do Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades make to our communities? What emergency situations do they respond to?
The Bush Fire Brigades provide fire prevention and response capabilities in their local area. These fires can be structural or bush and scrub or assistance at any emergency affecting their local community.
Contrary to popular belief, bushfire volunteers are active all year round. They are just as busy in the cooler months. They attend structure fires, accidents, rescues and searches. They are also involved in helping other agencies, training and preparing, and of course prescribed burning.
Many of today’s Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades came about as a result of a group of local people coming together to protect their community from one of nature’s most violent threats.
They were not created because a computer identified a gap in the “Resource to Risk” ratio. Instead, the most valued ideas, knowledge and experience in our Bush Fire Brigades have always come from the mums, dads, sons and daughters who simply saw a challenge in their community and stepped up to be part of the solution.
One of the strengths of WA’s ‘local control, local ownership, local outcomes’ model of our Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades is its unique ‘bottom up’ culture and methodologies. This is opposed to the regular top-down ‘command and control’ culture that has a place in other emergency services. This is best explained in the Ferguson Report into the Waroona fires in 2016 which summarised the cultural differences as;
Rural Approach and Methodology
- Community volunteer ethos
- Country/Rural base
- Decentralised leaders with a “distributed leadership approach”
- Leaders elected from a community based on demonstrated competence and experience
- Command by position
- Fire prevention seen as integral to role
- Emphasis on local planning, simplicity of procedures and decentralised administration
- Doctrine recognises the need for initiative, diversity and flexibility
- Understanding the needs of the rural land owner/manager
- Comfortable engaging multiple departments and agencies in response
- Tendency to being values and principles based
- Do what works
Urban Approach and Methodology
- Paid career staff ethos
- City/urban base
- Centrally led. Centralised decision making
- Career staff attain rank based on formal competency assessments and experience in urban fire
- Command authority by rank
- Tendency for a “suppression” focus
- Emphasis on central planning, standardised procedures and centralised administration
- Doctrine is risk averse and tendency to be a rigid approach
- Understanding of needs of building owner
- Operates with few other agencies
- Tendency to prescription – “rules based”
- Do what I am told
Do all Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members respond to emergencies?
No. There are a wide variety of roles for volunteers, either directly responding to an emergency or behind the scenes in a support role. Volunteers are only asked to respond to incidents for which they are trained; those in support roles are not expected to respond to emergencies.
Some of these support roles include:
- Administration (secretariat, rostering, marketing and accounting support)
- Social media (monitoring and managing)
- Community education (schools, community events and general community disaster preparation)
- Bush fire prevention activities
- Demonstrations, exercises, fundraising, promotions, competitions or a training for volunteers Station, Vehicle and Equipment maintenance and coordination
How often do Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members respond to emergencies?
Due to the unpredictable nature of emergencies, it’s not possible to determine the number of times each brigade or member responds. As a volunteer emergency responder, volunteers train consistently so that they have the current and practiced skills and knowledge and are ready to respond when an emergency happens.
Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members are encouraged to attend as many emergencies as they can, balancing family, work and responding. It’s important to remember that these local heroes, no matter what the situation (Family celebration, work etc.) drop everything at any moment to respond to fires and emergencies to keep their communities safe.
How many members are there in a Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members and how much time to they dedicate to the cause?
The number of members in each brigade ranges from between six to 80. The amount of training varies depending on the size of the brigade and the needs of the local community. Generally, the outer metro volunteers attend training sessions every week or fortnight for around two hours. Others are once an month or quarterly with others being as the need arises or come together for a training course. Most Brigades across the state also come together for pre-season and post season events and updates.
The key thing to remember is that they are all “unpaid” volunteers and whether they give one hour or 1000 hours a year; they are a selfless person who has volunteered and stepped forward to make a difference in their community.
How are Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades funded?
Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades are part funded through the Emergency Services Levy (ESL), an annual charge paid by all property owners in Western Australia. The ESL is collected by Local Governments and administered by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner.
The ESL funds the delivery of fire and emergency services for all Western Australians. This includes frontline services (eg. Personnel, vehicles and facilities), emergency response capability (eg. 000 call centre, planning, safety and education) and minimising community exposure (bushfire risk planning, controlled burns, investigations and inspections).
From the ESL, bush fire brigades can access funds, subject to Commissioners’ approval, to pay for equipment, fire fighting uniforms, and other resources. Some brigades still need to fund raise for items as the ESL does not cover all items for bush fire brigades. Depending on the size of the brigade and the local area, the quantity and requirements for these items vary. Many brigades rely on community and fundraising support to assist with operations.
What is the purpose of the Association of Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades (Bushfire Volunteers)?
Bushfire Volunteers is the peak body representing WA’s Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade members. We are a strong, independent, and respected advocacy agency and the united voice for Volunteer Bush Fire Brigades across Western Australia.
Our Purpose – To represent, support and promote Bushfire Brigades and their volunteers.
The Bushfire Volunteers association has a position on the National Council of Australian Volunteer Fire Associations who provide nation input on issues affecting volunteer firefighters in all areas of operations. We have strong representation to State Government, Federal Government and the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC) and are involved in setting national standards.