News & Media

Volunteer Firies, Gen Y Let Down

By: Chantelle Sobczyk

  11.00 AM 30 November, 2009

Views: 4470

As the days count down towards the start of the new fire season (at the time of writing 70 days to go) the thought must cross your mind what will the summer bring? After horrific fire conditions this year, dubbed the worst bushfire in Australia’s history, Black Saturday will be a lasting memory, but what about the volunteers? As fires worsen and the drought continues to ravage across the country, the chance of another Black Saturday is high and even predicted for the next summer period. One question one must ask themselves is "Would Australia be able to cope with multiple 'Black Saturday' fires sweeping across the whole nation?" That is, not limited to just the one State.

As the year goes on countless of Aussies jump in the car, gear bag loaded in the back and head down to their local fire station to give their night a week (or fortnight) in skills maintenance training. They don their 'Yellows', talk about their week, ask each other how they are going, and finally get down to business. This training is not only in preparation for what is inevitable with the summer period, but it is the invaluable information and skills that may not only save someone’s else's home/ life/ land/ stock, but their own life if things were to make a turn for the worse.

But what of the volunteer these days? Statistics from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) have shown that over the period 2001-2006 the median age of CFA’s volunteer membership rose from 40 years to 46 years of age. With Australia’s ageing population, the age of our trusted volunteers is also on the increase. Where are all the approx 4.5 million gen Ys that live in Australia? Not only is the age on the rise, but just think with the increasing older volunteers (don't get me wrong they can hold their own on the fire ground and are a bundle of extensive knowledge from years and years of volunteering) and no gen Y's stepping into the ranks, what is going to happen when they reach their expiry date for active service. We are going to have a country with established volunteer fire services, but no people to do the job when its needed most.

How can we though give us, the Gen Y's some incentive to join the fire service?  Is our focus as a whole generation so set on, bonuses, payment, our own advancement or by some other extrinsic  value that entices us, or can we actually for once get off the Gen Y ship of personal gain and do something that gives intrinsic satisfaction whilst helping the greater population.

My experience.
I became a volunteer firefighter in 2004 at the age of 17, my motivations? To give back to the community. I don't know if it's a country thing, growing up surrounded by bush and drought stricken paddocks and knowing the danger, or just wanting to help others during their time of need. I was not only the youngest volunteer in my station at the time, but also one of the few females who were. It was apparent that the age of vols was on the increase then, and that was five years ago. My first 'big fire' was that of the 2006 Grampians fire. I got the phone call to be at the station asap (less than 15 mins) and I would be gone for 4 days. I don't think I could ever forget the sound of that raging bushfire hurtling towards me, or the speed in which it traveled. It was scary, horrific, challenging, physical, emotional but the sense of mateship, and accomplishment, overrides it all. Since the grampians fire, not only have i turned out with the brigade during the year, I also went on two strike teams to the 2007 Victorian Alpine fires, the first giving up my birthday celebrations to be on the fire front, the second following not long after. Unfortunately my university studies prevent me from volunteering the 365 days a year because of being interstate, however during summer when I am around the bag is always ready to go, usually in the back of the car so I can respond as soon as I can if the call comes out.



 Kathy M.,


Great post Chantelle! I have lived in a pretty high risk area all my life, but there have only been one or two times that we have really thought about leaving. Its the most amazing feeling having a fire so close, kinda a mix of real fear and excitment! We have never been in direct threat of a big fire though, which I am throughly glad.

Thanks for writing this, you put it realy well.


Jarrod W.,

You're an inspiration - every year we stop the nation to recognise those who fell in wars overseas, but every year (for the past 5 years especially) in Victoria a massive force of volunteers has gone out to battle for us and keep us safe. It seems this nation is happy to spend millions on training people to swim faster laps - but keeping country people safe from fires? Do that on your own time - for free! You also show something that I reckon city media don't get: being a volunteer firey isn't about blokes, "heroes" and silent bravery - we need more women like you stepping up and leading by example! 

Last Updated: 10 December 2015