24 August 2020

A 1000 per cent increase in RFS waitlist as new recruits hit the frontlines

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Rural Fire Service firefighter dousing flames.

The ACT Rural Fire Service has welcomed 26 new volunteers ahead of the upcoming bushfire season. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Two dozen rural firefighters will join the ACT frontline for the upcoming fire season following the graduation of an ACT Rural Fire Service (RFS) class last month.

The ACT RFS has received 900 email enquiries to join the service since September 2019, and 330 people confirmed they want to be added to the waitlist. An average of just 30 people have been on the waitlist in previous years, meaning a 1000 per cent increase during the past year.

A total of 26 ACT RFS volunteers graduated in July – 24 are frontline firefighters – while a further 73 ACT State Emergency Service (SES) personnel will be fully trained, equipped and ready to support the community by October.

Three dozen urban firefighters have also joined the force this financial year.

The graduation followed an influx of interest in the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA), which oversees the RFS and SES, following the past summer’s devastating bushfire and storm season.

READ ALSO RFS expansion on the table while national firefighting strike force floated

“Each year, the ACT Emergency Services Agency receives great interest and engagement from the Canberra community to join the agency in a paid or volunteer capacity,” said an ESA spokesperson.

The ACT had 248 people deployed near Braidwood towards the end of November 2019, with around 200 of them being on-ground firefighters. The ACT RFS had around 10 per cent of its force deployed in NSW on any given day to help contain bushfires in the region, with staff being rotated daily.

The ACT RFS has around 420 active members in the service with hundreds on the waiting list.

“ACT RFS members train all year round to ensure their skills are maintained and they continually receive up-to-date training on all new and old qualifications,” said the ESA spokesperson.

ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan.

Georgeina Whelan is preparing for her second fire season as ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

“Current members will receive training in qualifications, if not already qualified, in areas such as urgent duty driving, bush firefighting, advanced firefighting, navigation, crew leadership, aviation, 4WD, and first aid and CPR refreshers.”

READ ALSO ACT RFS calls for fire tower operators ahead of upcoming bushfire season

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the upcoming bushfire season is expected to be more moderate than the Black Summer fires, which devastated the ACT and NSW, due to all the recent rain. The upcoming season’s bushfire outlook is expected to come out in the next month ahead of the fire season, which usually commences on 1 October and runs until 31 March, depending on conditions.

“It is a continuous cycle of preparation,” said Commissioner Whelan. “You move from one season, there is no rest, you get ready for the next season.

“The rain gives us a lot of confidence that the outlook for this year will be a normal bushfire season – what is normal these days? – but certainly we are working closely to ensure the SES is ready because while the rain is good from the bushfire perspective, it will keep us busy during the storm season.”

It should be noted that an earlier start to the bushfire season is not unprecedented. The 2018 season was brought forward a month to 1 September.

Information about careers and volunteer opportunities is available on the ESA website.

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