ACT News


Young volunteer firefighters step up in Canberra

Generation Y will soon make up the majority of ACT's rural firefighters, as a surge of recruits in recent years has changed brigade dynamics. 

The number of volunteers has increased by more than one-third in three years to leave the median age at 36, a stark contrast to the NSW rural service's figure of 51.

Gungahlin Rural Fire Brigade captain Simon Butt said there had been positive results from the influx of people in their 20s to the team during the past five years. 

"It's the expectations that they be treated with respect, that their time is valued – it's required us to improve our training, improve our communications," he said. 

"Without a doubt it has brought some of our older members into the digital age."

The captain said age differences were most noticeable when his Gungahlin brigade travelled interstate.


Nearly half – 48 per cent – of the ACT's rural firefighters were 34 or younger.

While those 45 or older make up 61 per cent of NSW's rural volunteers, the equivalent elder tier in the ACT make up only 29 per cent. 

ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Andrew Stark said in addition to the favourable demographics of workers moving to Canberra for Defence and other Commonwealth jobs, the small jurisdiction allowed the service to be more adaptable to members' needs.

He said better online information about the fighting of fires was also a likely factor in encouraging new volunteers.

"People can see the value of their volunteering, back to friends or family or back to the community," Mr Stark said.  

The generation shift has in part spilt across the border.

Wallaroo Rural Fire Brigade is also home to a majority under-40 crowd. 

Brigade captain Neil Shepherd estimated the average age of the volunteers he led was now 30 to 33, with about 20 of his brigade of 92 aged under 25.   

"Of those 20 or so there are only a handful who live locally, the rest are out of the northern suburbs of Canberra," he said. 

"For our 50 years-plus type members, they are very quick to respond to an incident; they're very available because they're predominantly retired," Captain Shepherd said. 

"Then the younger guys can come and replace them [at an incident] and do longer work as they're fitter."

Demographics can shift greatly across short distances, as the Wamboin Rural Fire Brigade over the ACT's north-east border has an average age of 57.

Brigade captain Geoff Foster said younger members would be welcomed, with leadership succession an issue. 

Murrumbateman brigade captain Matt Baker said his team was largely 40 and older, with only a handful of under-25s, but the majority of members had arrived within the past five years. 

The ACT's rural fire service now has 512 volunteers, down from 550 last year but up from 374 in 2010-11.

New Gungahlin recruit, 33-year-old engineer Jane Hung, said volunteering was a great way to make connections and starting young had its benefits.

"As someone without a family or kids here, you've got more time to contribute," she said.  

Age breakdowns were not available for the 1100 members of the ACT's community fire units, a home-defence network administered by the urban ACT Fire & Rescue.

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a higher than average bushfire risk for southern Australia this summer.

Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell warned this week there was already a risk of fire

Mr Stark said environmental conditions were set to be difficult.

"The bureau has forecast above average temperatures from now to Christmas, and below average rainfall, and that will mean as we move closer to Christmas the conditions will deteriorate quite rapidly."