Training Begins For Volunteer Firies After Membership Enquiries Spike
After a horror bushfire season that devastated Australia this summer, some brigades are starting to train their new volunteers as the number of NSW enquiries reached over 33,000.
In Sydney, the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade welcomed recruits on Monday, one week after the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) announced all of the state's fires were out.
"Things have quietened down a little operationally, and with that comes training!" the brigade wrote on Facebook.
"It's our time, while we can, to teach these new members the basic fundamentals of firefighting in an effort to boost our capability and better protect the community," the brigade said.
"Welcome to the family!"
In recent months, Horsley Park is among the local brigades that have heard from members of the public who are interested in becoming volunteer firefighters.
NSW RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford said the state's online enquiries and subsequent membership applications have skyrocketed, after Australia's months-long bushfire crisis.
"We do tend to see a spike in enquiries when we do have a busy fire season. This one has certainly been one of those occasions," Burford told 10 daily.
The NSW RFS said bushfires started in early July 2019 and raged for 240 days. Across the country, more than 30 people died and thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed, with more than 11 million hectares burnt.
Between July 2019 and January 15 this year, the NSW RFS received over 33,000 membership enquiries compared to about 1,850 over the same period the previous year.
Interest peaked in mid November last year, and again in mid January.
The NSW RFS has also received over 4,000 membership applications from those who followed through with their enquiry and met with their local brigade to join and begin training.
The NSW RFS is the world's largest volunteer fire service, with just over 2,000 brigades across 45 districts. Currently, the service has 72,491 volunteers across four regions and 911 staff. Approximately 70 per cent of staff are or have been a volunteer.
Burford said local brigades will often start intaking members at this time of year when callouts begin to drop.
"The bulk of our training is done in the off season in the winter months to get ready for the hazard reduction season -- which is typically in August -- and the fire season which usually starts later in the year," she said.
Training is ongoing in Queensland, with each area having its own plan to meet the requirements of particular brigades and regions, according to a Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) spokesperson.
The RFS has received about 1,517 volunteer membership applications since September last year.
The spokesperson told 10 daily membership levels have remained "steady" over the past 10 years, with an average annual intake of 2,240 volunteers.
In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) also had a "significant" increase in expressions of interest for both operational and support roles after the recent fires.
"It is not uncommon for volunteer expressions of interest to spike in the wake of significant fires and CFA welcomes all enquiries from members of the public who want to help their community," a CFA spokesperson told 10 daily.
But she said usual recruiting efforts may be delayed during times of high fire activity, as blazes continue to burn in the state.
"We will work through all of the applications in time, but to assist immediately during this fire season we encourage members of the public to support fire affected communities in other ways, such as donating to the Victorian Bushfire appeal," she said.
Burford said new members are now more important than ever, as experts repeatedly warn fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
It comes as a ground-breaking report, released last week by leading scientists, detailed evidence that climate change played a large role in the recent bushfire crisis.
The report found human-caused climate change increased the chances of Australia experiencing extreme fire weather by at least 30 per cent, and potentially up to 80 percent.