New South Wales Fire Brigades Community Fire Unit Approach: A Report on The Background, Key Issues And Future Directions

Community Fire Unit (CFU) initiatives in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are increasing in popularity and cost. This report measures the effectiveness of the scheme in achieving key community bushfire safety goals. It also identifies likely challenges facing the movement as numbers grow and new issues arise.

An assessment was carried out utilising a range of qualitative and quantitative research techniques, including: 10 agency interviews; 670 Community Fire Unit member questionnaires; 50 public questionnaires and 4 focus groups.

The research identified many positive aspects including a sense of empowerment, increased capability to live with fire and improved social interactions among individuals involved in the CFU program. Bonding and bridging ties are both potentially strengthened through involvement with CFUs.

The training and equipment were particularly valued as they boosted confidence and created more of an active and cooperative role for groups intending to stay and defend their homes from bushfire.

However, it was also found that some CFU members focussed too sharply on their operational role, leaving gaps in their wider preparation and planning. A strong reliance upon equipment and guidance from commanding officers could make some communities more vulnerable to bushfire. 10% of survey respondents stated that their families would stay at home as long as possible then evacuate in the event of a bushfire in their area.

In addition, strong community links within the CFUs were identified as having a potentially negative influence on wider community relations, preparedness and communications.

Respondents identified that the growth of the CFU movement has not been accompanied by adequate increases in support and administration, with some feeling that the more personal ‘bottom-up’ focus has now been lost as communications with the NSW Fire Brigades have become more difficult.

The evidence points towards the need for a more focused and capable support network to adequately manage the CFU movement. Nevertheless, the program continues to develop and improve systems as more resources are allocated and greater emphasis is placed on it by government. Undoubtedly the CFU Program systems will be significantly improved in years to come.

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  • Principal Scientific Adviser, Program Leader, Project Leader, Researcher

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