UP IN SMOKE: Killarney fire brigade first officer Wayne Petersen urges volunteers to sign up, in light of decreasing numbers.
UP IN SMOKE: Killarney fire brigade first officer Wayne Petersen urges volunteers to sign up, in light of decreasing numbers. Tessa Flemming

Join or perish: Passionate plea as concern for season flares

RURAL residents risk their properties burning without firies to douse the flames, unless they take steps to join volunteer brigades.

Crews are dwindling due to age and shrinking populations, which is taking a toll on rural stations, some of which have less than a handful of members.

Confronted with a grim summer fire forecast, rural brigades are planning how to best protect against blazes, despite a lack of hands to help out.

Killarney Rural Fire Brigade secretary-treasurer Woody Dunkley said he had seen his brigade's numbers drop to three in the past 18 months.

Mr Dunkley blamed it on the drought.

"There's a lack of work and no water anywhere so members move away.

"And it's not just us.

"All brigades are having the same problem," he said.

In places like Karara, this meant stations were relying on older members and seeing few new members, according to first officer Ian Clark.

"It's pretty hard, we have people who started a long time ago and aged, but there's not many new people who have moved into the area," he said.

While most rural fire brigades were expected to have at least three members on a call, The Glen first officer John Skinner said there were times when he didn't even have those numbers.

"I struggle to put a fire crew together, we're not supposed to go to a fire without three men and sometimes we go with only two," Mr Skinner said.

"Over the 20 years I've been involved, I've gone to look at fires with only myself in the truck and usually I can get away with it, but it puts a lot of stress on those people being the ones called out all the time."

Events like Father's Day tomorrow, instead of bringing excitement, bring an extra source of worry for those in charge like Mr Clark.

"The idea of 'what if I can't get a crew' plays on my mind all the time," he said.

"The classic example is this weekend where I'm off to New South Wales for Father's Day with my family.

"That means we're five members short and I worry that I've got boys who are not advanced in training, and all these things play on your mind as to how you're going to help the community."

Being a rural firefighter also means organising such events as community appreciation days.

Mr Clark said he put his whole heart and soul into his role and feared what could happen if the community didn't return the favour soon.

"There's a pride in the position you hold and I don't want to let my community down but why should it be left up to one person for the benefit of the whole community?"



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