Building Partnerships

  Comment Banner September 2009

Research Project Report: Recruiting and retaining female fire service volunteers


A survey of Country Fire Service (CFS) female volunteers has found that they are very happy overall with their experiences within the volunteer-based fire and emergency service. 

The survey, completed by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), found that CFS female volunteers enjoy fulfilling opportunities for learning new skills and for personal growth and development.

The Bushfire CRC survey of CFS female volunteers was completed as part of a research project managed by the SAFECOM Volunteer Strategy and Support Unit.

The aim of the survey was to find out about the experiences of women volunteers so as to provide direction for both long and short-term strategies that will assist emergency services in recruiting and retaining female volunteers.

The survey asked about perceptions of fire service roles and demands, the local brigade climate, training and leadership opportunities, gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment and difficulties with personal protective clothing and equipment.

Photo courtesy of CFS Promotions Unit
  The Bushfire CRC research has found that on average women are under-represented in Australia's volunteer fire services, however the CFS has a relatively high proportion of female volunteers at approximately 23%.

Bushfire CRC reports that the numbers of women volunteering as firefighters have steadily increased in recent years as muscle-based stereotypes about the requirements of fire fighting wither. The increased inclusion of women into volunteer fire fighting promises to significantly broaden the pool of available recruits and improve the service levels as well as the viability of many brigades.

The survey has highlighted a number of areas, that in time and with the appropriate resources, could be improved and will ultimately help to retain more female volunteers. These included the need for protective clothing specifically designed for women and improved accessibility of equipment stored high on trucks. About a quarter of the women surveyed reported that a lack of facilities and privacy at fire stations was a hurdle to be overcome with future planning and station upgrades.

Whilst there was generally a relatively low incidence of harassment reported, it was recommended the 'Working In Harmony Program', designed to assist volunteers if they experience bullying and harassment in the brigade climate, continue to be implemented as a means of education and awareness about a range of issues, including discrimination.

While the research found that women were reasonably happy with their experiences in the CFS, there were some who believed their male counterparts tended to be somewhat overprotective. Others reported barriers to volunteering included concerns about the physical demands of fire fighting, child and family responsibilities and time constraints associated with paid work.

The CFS has made a commitment to progressing the recommendations through its strategic and annual planning processes and continuing to support the implementation of programs such as the 'Working In Harmony Program'.

CFS Chief Officer, Euan Ferguson says, "This research has served to confirm that we are heading in the right direction in terms of being able to benchmark equity and diversity programs and services to volunteers.

"The 'Working In Harmony Program' has continued to grow as it is rolled out across South Australia, and we now have 39 volunteer harassment contact officers sector-wide.

"Progress is being made in improving PPE and facilities for all volunteers and recruitment resources have been developed that focus on inclusively," said Euan.


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