A shared risk: volunteer shortages in Australia’s rural bushfire brigades

Mary O’Halloran, Amanda Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In the latter part of 2019 and into 2020, Australia experienced an unprecedented bushfire season, with major bushfires burning more than 18 million hectares. The scale of the fires served to highlight Australia’s heavy reliance on rural volunteer firefighters, bringing into sharp focus the long-term issues that many volunteer bushfire brigades have faced with recruitment and retention. Against the backdrop of long-term government dis-investment into the provision of essential services in rural communities, and with rural volunteer participation at saturation, a deeper understanding of the factors that influence involvement in volunteer bushfire brigades is vital. This review paper examined the factors that have contributed to rural volunteer shortages, particularly in the Australian context. The research revealed that increased time and financial demands on volunteers hampered attraction and retention efforts. The time and financial costs for individuals to volunteer had risen as a result of increased centralised regulation of volunteer provided services. Given the reliance of Australia’s broader population, environment and economy on the work of volunteer firefighters, there is a critical need for new empirical research to investigate how organisational cultures, changes in attitudes to different forms of volunteering and changes in employment practices will impact rural volunteer bushfire services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-435
JournalAustralian Geographer
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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