Emergency service volunteers: what do we really know about them?

Document Type


Publication details

Baxter-Thomkins, A & Wallace, M 2006, 'Emergency service volunteers: what do we really know about them?', Australian Journal on Volunteering, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 7-15.

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Recent world events have thrown into high relief the vital importance to society of those who form the tactical response to natural and human-made emergency and disaster situations. Many of those who attend emergencies in Australia are volunteers in organisations such as the State Emergency Services or Rural Fire Services. The second national survey of voluntary work undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that of all volunteers 4.5% were engaged as volunteers in a range of emergency services (ABS 2001, p. 24). It is estimated that these emergency service volunteers save governments and society in general millions of dollars per annum (Martin 1993; Howard 2000/2001; McNamara 2001/2002) and provide a vital service to their communities. Australian society cannot do without this type of volunteer and this paper examines what is currently known about such volunteers in the Australian context. Some characteristics of emergency service volunteers are examined, including the vital role they play, their demographic composition and the influence on them of motivation, recruitment and retention practices. Gaps in the knowledge base are also outlined. This paper acknowledges the eighteen member organisations of the Australian Emergency Management Volunteer Forum, however, in this instance it concentrates on the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS). This examination of the current knowledge base is a prelude to a major study of emergency service volunteers who have chosen to join the NSW SES or the NSW RFS.

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