Media release

Firefighter fatigue concern amid lengthening bushfire seasons

Summer ends but no relief in sight for firefighters


Firefighter fatigue will worsen as bushfire seasons become hotter, drier and longer, according to the Australian Climate and Firefighters Alliance.

Summer officially ends today, but firefighters see no relief in sight as meteorologists forecast hot and dry conditions will continue in many parts of the country.

Alliance spokesman Paul Gray said working in hot and dangerous conditions was part of the job, but firefighters were reporting an increase in the number of fires they were attending, stretched over a longer period of time and under more intense conditions.

“Many firefighters are saying that the intensity of the heat they’re working in is worsening and that these fires are physically knocking them around more. You get used to working in the heat, but it’s difficult to keep fighting fires continually in such a high level of heat. That’s when you start getting people dropping like flies from exhaustion or illness.”

Mr Gray said if bushfire seasons kept getting hotter, drier and longer under climate change then fire agencies will need to find new ways to protect firefighters, such as the portable cooling stations used in the USA.

Fire Brigade Employees Union president Darin Sullivan said an emerging trend was for interstate fire agencies to be called on to provide local station relief staff – in addition to the firefighters sent over to assist with major bushfires.

“Fire services have sometimes sent resources and firefighters interstate to help with major fire emergencies, but the fires we are seeing of late are so catastrophic that fire services are being stretched to a point where they also need interstate firefighters to staff local fire stations,” Mr Sullivan said.

“This happened in Victoria in 2009 and was reciprocated in NSW in 2014. Most recently, NSW was called on to send firefighters to Tasmania. Interstate firefighters were provided not only to help with the fire itself, but at one point in Tasmania the NSW deployment was considered for the staffing of fire stations due to fatigue and lack of resources.”

So far, during the 2015-2016 bushfire season:

  • 8 lives have been lost
  • More than 700 properties (including 357 homes) destroyed
  • 630,000 hectares of land razed, including 11,000 hectares of world heritage listed wilderness in Tasmania
  • Tens of thousands of livestock killed
  • Three catastrophic bushfires declared for which insurance claims worth $380 million have been lodged