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Shortages wilt fire brigades
Shortages wilt fire brigades

Country towns are at crisis point because there are few young volunteers to replace veterans in fire brigades, volunteer fire and rescue associations say.

The message comes after the Murchison town of Cue was without firefighters for more than a week around Christmas because there were not enough volunteers to man the brigade.

"If there had been a fire, people would have had to wait till Mt Magnet or Meekatharra got there, if they were available," Cue brigade captain Stephen Manning said.

Both Mt Magnet and Meekatharra crews are more than an hour's drive from Cue.

The Cue brigade started operating again after finding new recruits.

Mr Manning, a volunteer firefighter for 29 years, said the town's demographics were changing. People moved and there were no younger volunteers to replace them.

Cue shire president Roger Le Maitre blamed an ageing population and the shift to fly-in, fly-out work for the shortfall in volunteers.

He said younger people in Cue were FIFOs on 12-hour shifts and the last thing they felt like was going straight to an eight-hour volunteer shift.

Volunteer Fire Rescue Service Association executive officer Max Osbourne said young people lacked the work ethic of their elders.

"Part of the problem is there just aren't the people out there and the young people today don't want to do the hard yards," he said.

But volunteer bushfire brigade association president Terry Hunter disagreed.

"People nowadays marry later in life," he said. "They have young families and the expectation is they spend time with them."

He said the average age of volunteers was 50 to 60 in his 25,000-strong force. "It's probably not so much an issue at the moment because people in the main are physically capable but as the years go on and those people move into their late 60s and early 70s, their capability to perform the more physical roles is going to be harder," he said.

Chidlow resident and veteran volunteer Derek Jones, 73, has been fighting fires for at least 17 years.

"We still get short," Mr Jones, an Australian of the Year nominee for this year, said.

He fears his community will be at risk if more young people are not encouraged to join.

"It's just old people like me and we're getting worn out," he said.

Busselton local Ben Gardiner, 21, a State Emergency Service volunteer for about five years, said some younger people did not understand the rewards of being a volunteer.

"I personally think it's a rewarding thing to do and you get qualifications to use in your career," he said. "It's about putting that out there to the younger crew, that you get something out of it."

Department of Fire and Emergency Services manager of volunteer and youth services Wayne Fanderlinden said the average age of the 32,000 volunteers in WA, including in the State Emergency Service and fire and rescue services, was mid-40s and had been that way for some time.

People older than 45 made up just over 40 per cent of all volunteers.

The department encouraged younger recruits through cadet programs in 40 schools, half in country areas, Mr Fanderlinden said.