Rural Fire Service volunteer recruitment and training is emerging as a critical issue for brigades to address in the wake of the bushfire disaster.
Relentless, devastating bushfires in the Mid Coast area have tested the resourcing and limits of firefighters and brigades, and momentarily focused community attention on the commitment and bravery of the men and women who volunteer to step into the line of fire to protect properties.
Brigade members are recovering, and as the smoke clears, the task of volunteer recruitment and training is now a priority.
Tinonee Rural Fire Brigade is keen to boost its numbers and on Sunday, December 8 at 2pm its members will host an information session at its shed in Park Street.
Sue Odgers will be there, she is the community face of Tinonee Rural Fire Brigade, and during the bushfire disaster she worked tirelessly to inform the community of threats, in addition to her role supporting operational men and women in the brigade.
In the midst of the crisis, a rallying cry for volunteers was sounded on Facebook and people responded positively, with Sunday's information session being a first step towards educating and training people about the numerous roles required to create an efficient rural fire brigade.
Sue is hoping Tinonee residents will attend the information session, and from a region perspective she hopes men and women will step forward to join other brigades in the Mid Coast area.
Operational members are needed to help manage fatigue during heavy fire periods.
"That's when you need more people trained so that you can give firefighters the rest required. We need to make sure that they are not overworked," Sue said.
Commitment is the big word because when we need them, we need them.Sue Odgers
"Commitment is the big word because when we need them, we need them."
Men and women can train for operational duties, which involves going out to fight fires, and it requires a reasonable level of fitness and "a fair bit of agility to get up and out of the truck and to be able to drag hoses," according to Sue.
Volunteers are trained and assessed before being classed as operational, and "remain under supervision and guidance for as long as necessary."
"They don't get put straight into the fire ground with nobody around them. There are crew leaders who are responsible for the people around them so they are watched and guided, and the training is ongoing."
They don't get put straight into the fire ground with nobody around them.Sue Odgers
Operational members must complete a basic bushfire course and then participate in monthly training. In reviewing the needs of the Tinonee Rural Fire Brigade, Sue says its leadership team intends to target its recruitment at fit early retirees.
"Our brigade has a lot of people who work and so they generally cover night shifts. The day time is where we need more people because some of us are getting on a bit," Sue laughs.
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"The same challenge would be in every brigade, and the biggest challenge for most of them is getting enough members," Sue said.
"Everything that is out there is totally dried out. Anything that hasn't burnt is really dry and with the right conditions it can go again.
"This is what we have been afraid of for many years, and there are still lots of areas of danger. We don't want to scare people, we just want them to be alert."
To learn more visit the NSW Rural Fire Service website www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/volunteering-with-the-rfs
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