Managing emergency services volunteers

Rural conditions Volunteering Australia Victoria

This report assesses whether the the Country Fire Authority and Victoria State Emergency Service effectively and efficiently manage emergency services volunteers.

Introduction: Volunteering is critical to the delivery of community services throughout Victoria. When volunteers provide their time and resources, not only do they help to deliver services and contribute to the community, they enable these services to be delivered more cost effectively than if delivered by a paid workforce. The most recent Victorian Government estimate of the value of volunteering in Victoria was made in 2006 and placed the value at around $16.4 billion per year.

Volunteers give their time for different reasons, such as a sense of duty to their community, or a desire to help others, to learn and to develop themselves. Volunteerism also provides volunteers with an opportunity to connect with their community, creating a sense of belonging. Within rural communities, it is common for generations of families to volunteer with an organisation, with some volunteering for multiple agencies.

Victoria has a range of emergency services organisations. These include Victoria Police, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Ambulance Victoria, which largely rely on a paid workforce. In contrast, 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.

CFA’s volunteers number around 57 500, which includes 38 000 operational and 19 500 non-operational volunteers. Operational volunteers include firefighters, communications and emergency response officers and incident controllers. Non-operational volunteers perform a range of activities including community education, fundraising, management, recruitment and catering.

SES reports that around 5 000 volunteers perform a range of its operational and non-operational roles. Operational roles include general rescues and road crash rescues, search and rescue functions and even managing and directing traffic during emergencies. Non-operational roles include management and administration, media and public relations, fundraising and community education.

The audit objective was to assess whether CFA and SES effectively and efficiently manage emergency services volunteers. It examined whether the strategic and operational planning within these agencies was adequate to identify and address volunteer workforce capacity and requirements, including recruitment, retention and support.

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