Google searches for the phrase ‘how to become a volunteer firefighter’ have surged to a new high as concerned Australians seek ways to join the volunteer fire-fighting services.
Related story: PM defends Hawaii holiday as work-life balance
Search volumes for the phrase are the highest they’ve been since 2004, higher than even the major Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009.
The interest has also been reflected in enquiries to the NSW RFS, a spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
“We have seen a significant increase in the number of people enquiring about how to join the NSWRFS on our website,” the spokesperson said.
“We have received around 10,000 website enquiries since 1 July 2019. For the whole of FY18/19 we received 3,140.”
How to become a volunteer firefighter
Continuing, the spokesperson said the best way to join the RFS is through the NSW RFS website, or by calling their local Fire Control Centre.
The interest in joining the volunteer firefighters comes as Australia battles around 220 blazes, 110 of which are located in NSW.
NSW’s bushfire season has seen the state reach unprecedented “catastrophic” emergency level warnings, and six people lose their lives, including two volunteer firefighters.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Monday warned of the “massive” workload volunteer firefighters are facing.
"A massive amount of work right across firegrounds the length and breadth of the state will continue throughout this Christmas-New Year period," Fitzsimmons told Sunrise on Monday.
"Yes they're fatigued - physically fatigued, emotionally fatigued - but they know their communities are under threat and they're going to do all they can," he said.
Should volunteer firefighters be paid?
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called on the government to consider providing some form of financial support to volunteer firefighters, who have been battling blazes since September.
He said Prime Minister Scott Morrison “can do three things immediately, which is to bring forward the Council of Australian Governments meeting, meet the former fire chiefs, and do something now to provide support for those volunteer firefighters who have been in the field for such a long time”.
“Those who, many of them, aren’t being compensated at all, they still had to put food on the table, they still have to pay their mortgage,” Albanese said on Sunrise on Saturday.
“We need to do more to make sure that people aren’t out of pocket, that they’re not in the position of choosing whether to go out on another run, or whether to have to go to work and provide for their family.”
The president of NSW’s Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, Mick Holton, has also called for compensation, noting that firefighters have had to crowdfund for items like smoke masks.
"Why aren't we picking up the tab for legitimate expenses like we do for paid people?" he said.
Responding on Monday, however, the prime minister said Australia’s emergency response programs “will always depend on having a large volunteer force”.
“I'm taking advice from fire commissioners on what is best needed to continue to support access to that important volunteer force that is out there," he said, adding that state leaders have not yet brought the issue to him.
Update: Public service volunteer fireys get four weeks paid leave
Morrison on Tuesday announced public service workers who are fighting bushfires will now receive at least 20 working days paid leave if they are volunteering.
"One of the things I've heard on the ground is that some people are dipping into their other leave entitlements to stay out there battling blazes," Morrison said.
"Today's announcement is about ensuring our volunteer firefighters can keep focused on the job at hand."
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