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Volunteer firefighters turning their backs on Victoria’s reorganised CFA

Bush firefighters are in short supply as Victoria approaches what experts predict will be a scorching summer,

Bush firefighters are in short supply as Victoria approaches what experts predict will be a scorching summer, Photo: AAP

Victoria’s volunteer fire service has shed almost 10,000 volunteers over the past decade as its response to structure blazes slips.

The 2022/23 Country Fire Authority annual report, tabled in state parliament on Thursday, shows the service has at least 6000 fewer operational volunteers than its target.

Its operational volunteer target is set between 35,000 and 37,400 but only 28,785 were registered, complemented by an extra 23,022 non-paid support staff.

There were 299 fewer operational CFA volunteers compared to the previous year and 9314 fewer than 10 years ago.

In 2020, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and career CFA services were abolished and folded into into the newly created Fire Rescue Victoria.

The government-led fire service changes passed Victorian parliament in 2019 after years of fierce debate and backlash.

As of 2022/23, nine permanent operational staff and 862 permanent ll bsupport staff remain on the fire service’s books.

CFA chair Greg Wilson said more than 14,000 volunteers received training over the previous 12 months.

‘A key area of improvement’

“This remains a key area of improvement for us,” he wrote in his foreword.

CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan said more than 5700 people expressed an interest in joining the service last year, with their applications under consideration.

“Pleasingly, over recent years we have witnessed a substantial improvement in the percentage of operational volunteers turning out to incidents,” he said.

The report showed the CFA is meeting benchmarked response times in 80.4 per cent of call-outs to structural fires, below the 90 per cent target.

That figure was 81.4 per cent in 2021/22.

For road accident rescues, crews responded within time benchmarks in 92.4 per cent of cases, exceeding the 90 per cent target.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said CFA members were despairing at their lack of assets to properly fight fires ahead of the expected return to normal summer bushfire conditions.

“We’ve got a government that simply has run out of money,” he told reporters.

The Victorian government has been contacted for comment.

-AAP

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