”That was a big surprise” … Dr Tony Baxter-Tomkins, a rural fire service volunteer at Moree, found that the majority of RFS and SES volunteers believed they should be paid for work outside their communities. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
CHARITY, the saying goes, begins at home. But it may also end there.
More than half of the Rural Fire Service and State Emergency Service volunteers want to be paid for helping to fight fires and save lives outside their own backyard.
Research by Southern Cross University shows 58 per cent were happy to work for no money in their own communities no matter what the disaster, but believed they should get a wage or other payment when they were taken away from home, such as to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria or floods across NSW earlier this year.Advertisement: Story continues below http://ad-apac.doubleclick.net/adi/onl.smh.news/national/nsw;cat=national;cat1=nsw;ctype=article;pos=3;sz=300×250;tile=3;ord=2.2504512E7?
”All the Australian literature says that if you offered volunteers payment for what they did, they’d say no,” said Tony Baxter-Tomkins, who completed the research for his PhD.
”However, when I spoke to them about out-of-area responses, such as the [2001-02] Sydney bushfires, 58 per cent said: Yes, we do need it [money] for that, but not for local work.”
Suggested options for how they might be compensated varied from an hourly rate irrespective of rank to reimbursement of lost wages and an honorarium or superannuation scheme.
”They were pretty insistent that [for] out-of-area responses, their wages should be reimbursed,” he said.
”That was a big surprise. An outside response means a different community, so it’s not their family.
”They lose their wages and they have bills to pay, and houses to pay for, and they’re essentially asking for that to be reimbursed. Even if they get paid by their employer when they go to fight a fire, they’ve still lost that time with their family.”
Dr Baxter-Tomkins, 61, an RFS volunteer at Moree, interviewed 72 SES and RFS volunteers from across NSW for his research. Just over one-third thought volunteers should not get any remuneration.
But for the majority, their bonds within their immediate ”family” unit and their definition of community could explain the reluctance to volunteer ”for free” further afield.
Most emergency service volunteers were recruited by word of mouth through friends and relatives, Dr Baxter-Tomkins said.
”Their affiliation, their loyalty, first lies with their brigade or unit, obviously because they’ve got friends or relatives in it.
”Their next loyalty is with their local community. After that, it was to their sister groups, but they weren’t quite the same as the family that they’d developed in their own brigade.
”Lastly, their loyalty was to their organisations.”
The SES in NSW has about 10,000 volunteers, while the RFS has about 70,000.