What Is It Like to be a Firefighter In Australia?

Firefighting in Australia represents a monumental undertaking. It is an enormous country; it encompasses a total area of more than two million square miles. It has a population of more than 22 million, and yet the population distribution is not evenly distributed. It is considered to be one of the most developed nations in terms of infrastructure and its economy. In fact, it has the world’s fifth highest per capita income and is one of the largest economies too.

Naturally, this means that its governmental organisations are well established, but this is extremely interesting to assess because the country has really only been an independent nation since 1901. Clearly, it has evolved rapidly, and continues to do so. This can be seen in all parts of society, including how the communities and cities handle emergencies.

firefighting in Australia

This article will take a quick look at the methods surrounding firefighting in Australia, how they have learned to deal with fire and rescue emergencies, and where employment opportunities are readily available.

The Australian State System

It is amazing to step back and look at the way that the different firefighting organisations have evolved so rapidly in Australia. Just consider that it was just over 100 years ago that the six colonies of Australia federated into the Commonwealth. Today, there are the six states and two mainland territories:

  • New South Wales;
  • Queensland;
  • South Australia;
  • Tasmania;
  • Victoria;
  • Western Australia;
  • Northern Territory;
  • Australian Capital Territory;

Firefighting in Australia – Differences between the States

Over the years, each of the regions has developed firefighting organisations according to its own particular requirements. Though some of the groups would initially take their cues from outside influences (such as the use of the brass helmets and uniforms of the London Fire Brigade for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Sydney in 1884), the development of the actual brigades and companies would spring from the needs of the communities in which they operated.

This is why you will find that some areas rely entirely on volunteer services, and yet others have fully salaried teams of firefighters on call on a 24-hour basis. Some crews have a huge amount of knowledge with fighting bush fires, and others know the best ways to combat urban structure fires. Large swathes of the Australian continent are only sparsely populated, and yet still pose a serious threat for major bushfire incidents. Because it is too costly for all towns, villages, shires or hamlets to have a full time/permanent/paid fire service, the government subsidizes firefighting operations.

For instance, they will purchase equipment and pay for training, but it is in the hands of the volunteers to use the gear and their skills accordingly. Thus, you can get full training as a volunteer or as a permanent firefighter. This makes it easy to see that there are many options for someone interested in becoming a firefighter in Australia.

So now, let’s take a quick look at how it’s done in New South Wales.

Before we do that, however, we should note that each group has its own unique approach to hiring any salaried workers. The information below only applies to the state of NSW.

New South Wales – NSW Rural Fire Service

This is actually Australia’s very first official bush fire brigade, and it banded together in Berrigan around 1896. They worked in organized “patrols” to keep an eye on any bush fire conditions. There had been deadly and uncontrollable bush fires in Northern Victoria and southwestern New South Wales in the early 1890s, and this group established itself and trained to combat the issue.

The volunteer brigade system continued until the 1930s when the Bush Fires Act gave local councils the authority to establish brigades and appoint officers within them. This evolved into even more distinct groups when the Bush Fires Act of 1949 was passed. By 1970, the Bush Fire Committee had been created out of twenty different groups that include local government, insurance companies, farming groups, and more. Its goal was to advise local government on anything that related to bush fires.

By the 1990s, things had evolved even farther and the Committee became the Bush Fire Council and then the Bush Fire Service. It would coordinate firefighting activities throughout the region, but the brigades were still directly controlled by local councils.

In 1997 the NSW Rural Fire Service was created out of the Bush Fire Service and is an eight region, State controlled, entity. The district offices manage the local brigades and develop the fire prevention strategies, and currently there are more than one hundred offices.

NOTE: “Volunteer brigades are responsible for hands-on bush firefighting duties. Since the establishment of the Rural Fire Service, the role of brigades has gradually expanded to include disaster recovery, fire protection at motor vehicle accidents, search and rescue operations and increased levels of structural firefighting in Australia. There are over 1575 firefighting brigades and more than 50 catering and communications brigades providing support.”

Fire and Rescue NSW

With almost seven thousand firefighters and around 340 fire stations (along with six thousand volunteers and 414 paid support staff) the Fire and Rescue NSW is the seventh largest urban fire service in the modern world! It works directly with the Rural Services, but originated as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade from Sydney that had been started in 1884.

By 1909, it was its own organization, the New South Wales Fire Brigades and in 2011 it became the Fire and Rescue NSW as a method of better describing what the group actually provides in terms of community services.

Within this organisation you can find a diversity of employment opportunities because they have:

Permanent Stations – Manned with full time firefighters who work on a rotating shift of four different “platoons”.

Retained Stations – Manned by part-time firefighters who have received the same training as full-time firefighters but who usually have a regular “day job” apart from firefighting. These are stations in which firefighters are “on call” and respond from work or home 24-hours a day.

Mixed Stations – These can vary widely and will have a blend of permanent and retained workers. They may have two groups of equipment that are used by the different staff members as well, meaning a permanent “first response” team and a secondary support group with additional vehicles available as needed.

The NSW way is the Australian way

The above format is used by almost all of the firefighter recruitment services in Australia. When you see that a brigade is made up of retained firefighters, you can know that it means that the staff is fully trained and working “on call”, etc.

Fire and Rescue NSW also has Community Fire Unit Volunteers who are residents with special training in bushfire prevention and tactics. They are trained especially to help reduce the effects of bush-fires within their own communities. They are trained at their local stations and focus on bushfire prevention, preparedness and education.

Remember that all of the Fire and Rescue NSW groups are meant to deliver more than just firefighting services. They are also rescue and “hazmat” or hazardous materials providers. They are under the leadership of the Government of New South Wales and receive the majority of their funding from them.

More resources on firefighting in australia

For a specialised guide on careers to do with how to become a firefighter in Australia, visit the dedicated section of our website.

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