Battle to man rural SES units

Tayissa BaroneThe West Australian

The number of State Emergency Service volunteers is at a five-year high, though the divide between city membership and regional units continues to grow.

While some Perth units, including Northshore, Stirling and Rockingham, have waiting lists to join, regional units must compete with sport clubs and other groups for volunteers' time.

New figures show the number of SES volunteers in WA has grown to 2095 from a crippling low of 1454 in 2008-09.

Covering nine council areas in Perth, Northshore SES began turning down volunteers four years ago when it reached its capacity of 60.

Since then, acting manager Nick Elliott has had waiting lists of up to 150 people.

Mr Elliott said the unit could try to take on more people but its small training facility and few call-outs shared among a large group could leave members too bored and uninterested in the required weekly training.

"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "We've only got 60 members but some will only go on one call-out every 12 months because they work five days a week, they've got families and they never get the call at the right time.

"The only reason people join the SES is to go on call-outs, so it's a real balancing act."

More than 54 per cent of SES volunteers are scattered across regional and rural WA. They are joined by nearly 560 emergency services volunteers with both SES and firefighting duties in small communities such as Eucla and Fitzroy Crossing.

But the number of emergency services volunteers has fallen almost 9 per cent since 2011-12.

In Manjimup, three experienced volunteers left the town and the local SES last month.

Local unit manager Michael Mackay-Blair said his small team could cope but any extra hands would be a massive help.

Like most regional units, Manjimup struggled to attract young people who felt they did not have the time to train alongside other commitments, notably sport.

Mr Mackay-Blair said once their playing days ended in their 30s, the camaraderie and community spirit SES units offered was a real selling point.

Volunteers aged 24 and under make up only 16 per cent of the State's SES numbers.

SES Volunteer Association of WA president Dave Price said many country units struggled to cope as the average age of their members got older and older.

Mr Price said too few people covered much of WA and Perth needed new units as it expanded.

'Most regional units struggle to attract young people.'"Manjimup SES manager *Michael Mackay-Blair *

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