CFA, SES fast becoming grey brigades

FIRE brigades across the south-west are rapidly ageing with a new Auditor-General’s report claiming a lack of volunteer renewal is a problem throughout regional Victoria.

The report released yesterday claimed the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the State Emergency Service (SES) did not effectively manage volunteer recruitment and their ranks of volunteers were getting greyer.

The Auditor-General also found that neither CFA nor SES had a sound understanding of the total number of volunteers needed to fulfil their operational requirements. Recruitment by the organisations was described as “ad hoc”.

However, the state government and CFA management said they were already working to address the issue, but regional Victoria’s ageing population was a difficult factor to counteract.

CFA region five operations officer Richard Bourke said the low supply of younger volunteers was unsurprising given the Western District had a higher median age than the national average.

He said it was common in some country brigades for three generations of the one family to be signed up as volunteers.

“If you look at the last Census, you’ll find that the proportion of people in the south-west aged between 50 and 65 and the group over 65 is higher than the national average,” Mr Bourke said.

“So you’d expect to see a higher number of people in their 50s, 60s and 70s volunteering with the CFA. 

“It’s just the nature of the country that the average age is higher than Melbourne and even centres like Warrnambool, Hamilton, Ballarat and others.”

People aged 60 and over made up nearly a quarter of south-west Victoria’s population at the 2011 census, compared to the national rate of 19.1 per cent of all Australians.

Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells said the CFA and SES welcomed the Auditor-General’s report, with both agencies already in the process of implementing the recommendations.

“I am assured by both agencies that these issues are being addressed, with processes in place even before the Auditor-General’s audit was released,” Mr Wells said.

Opposition spokesman Wade Noonan said the report showed the state government needed to invest more into regional emergency services.

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