A potential crisis in wildfire emergency response capability? Australia's volunteer firefighters

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Community Safety
Human Resources
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TitleA potential crisis in wildfire emergency response capability? Australia's volunteer firefighters
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsMcLennan, J, Birch, A
JournalGlobal Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards
Pagination101 - 107
Date Published2005
AbstractIn most OECD countries, emergency response to accidents and natural disasters is very dependent on a trained workforce of emergency services volunteers: fire, rescue, medical, care and relief. With its large area, sparsely settled population, and frequent periods of low rainfall, Australia is particularly vulnerable to the threat posed by wildfires. There are an estimated 220,000 rural fire volunteers (in a population of 20 million) in eight state and territory volunteer rural fire services. These fire services have experienced significant decreases in volunteer numbers over the past decade, a trend which is true also of North American volunteer fire services. An investigation suggests that the decrease is driven by two related sets of factors: economic and demographic. Globalisation and deregulation of the economy, and technological innovation, have resulted in structural changes in the nature of work: privatisation, casualisation, self-employment, and demands for increased productivity. These factors make it more difficult for members of communities to volunteer, regardless of their motivation to do so. Further, like many other OECD countries, Australia's birth rate has fallen over the last three decades, resulting in a decline in the proportion of the population aged between 25 and 45 years—a trend that is unlikely to be reversed in the foreseeable future. These economic and demographic changes make it difficult for Australian volunteer rural fire agencies to meet their community protection responsibilities. Responding to these challenges may require radical changes in the way that these fire services are organised and supported.
Short TitleGlobal Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards
Refereed DesignationRefereed