Document Type


Publication details

Baxter-Tomkins, AJ 2011, 'Affiliation, commitment and identity of volunteers in the NSW Rural Fire and State Emergency Services', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright AJ Baxter-Tomkins


This research examines the experiences and perceptions of some emergency service volunteers of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the New South Wales State Emergency Service. In particular in investigates their motivation for joining their organisation of choice, their affiliation, commitment and identity formation. There is very little research regarding the NSW State Emergency Service volunteers but there is a growing body of knowledge regarding Rural Fire Service volunteers inAustralia. Significant research has been undertaken by McLennan and colleagues at La Trobe University and the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

The substantive findings of the research presented in this thesis about emergency service volunteers’ affiliation, commitment and identity reveal many complex issues that require careful consideration. This research found that emergency service volunteers are very strongly affiliated with their fellow unit or brigade members and with their local community. This affiliation is strengthened through the belief that the members of a brigade or unit constitute a ‘family unit’. Feelings of family, a sense of belonging to a team, camaraderie, friendships, being part of a group, trust and being one of the ‘locals’ are the emotive responses to the question about their affiliation with one another at the unit and brigade level. Close ties are also formed between the volunteers and their local community and this has a profound influence on the commitment of emergency service volunteers. An emergency service volunteer’s commitment is largely parochial. It is influenced to a high degree by their identification to their primary group, their local community, the parent organisation and positive media reports. The sense of identity of individual emergency service volunteers and of the collective primary group is formed and strengthened by the tendency to recruit like-minded people, by positive social opinion and by meaningful symbolism.

A number of theoretical perspectives from the disciplines of sociology and psychology have been used to inform this research. The methods adopted included participant observation, document analysis including media reports, and semi-structured interviews.

This research investigates a wide range of responses from emergency service volunteers about their subjective world and the issues they feel strongly about. A thematic analysis is made from the responses to the questions posed. The importance of this research can be attributed to its contributions to several bodies of knowledge. In the broad sense it adds to the knowledge bases regarding the ‘work’ of the NSW SES and the NSW RFS emergency service volunteers. More specifically, it adds to an understanding of the issues of emergency service volunteers’ subjectivity and the fields of recruitment, motivation, commitment, affiliation and identity formation.

A major contribution of this research is the detailed analysis of the complexities and subjective nature of emergency service volunteering. From a theoretical perspective, this research has contributed to the growing body theory on psychological contracts. It demonstrates that a range of psychological contract types is applicable to emergency service volunteers and how they apply within specific contexts and situations. This knowledge provides a new insight into the complexities of psychological contract formation and, in the case of emergency service volunteers, provides an insight into my construct of the different types of contracts they hold.