The Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the
Victoria State Emergency Service (SES), both of which provide
emergency response services for natural disasters, rely
significantly on volunteers to perform their duties. Volunteers
perform essential operational and non-operational duties including
firefighting, general rescue, road rescue, incident management,
community education, catering, recruitment and fundraising.
Volunteers also provide a workforce surge capacity during
protracted major incidents such as Black Saturday.
CFA and SES’s volunteers number around 57 500
and 5 000 respectively. However, despite the significant reliance
on volunteers, neither CFA nor SES has a sound understanding of the
total number of volunteers needed to fulfil their operational
requirements. CFA does not know how many volunteers it needs and
SES’ data on how many volunteers it has is unreliable. Neither
agency can be assured that it has the capacity to respond to
incidents when they occur because assessments of current workforce
capacity overestimate their emergency response capabilities.
CFA and SES’s decentralised approaches to the
recruitment, training and deployment of volunteers means neither
agency can assure itself that these activities are effectively
addressing workforce needs. CFA is in the process of implementing
programs that aim to address these concerns, however, SES’ attempts
to resolve these issues are presently inadequate.
Addressing these issues is critical to the long-term
sustainability of these emergency services agencies.