Red tape and government bureaucracy has been blamed for slashing the number of State Emergency Service volunteers to the lowest levels in recent history.

Queensland's SES has just 5200 active volunteers stationed across the state, 1000 fewer than five years ago.

The number of personnel has been in a steady decline since 2015-16, hitting a low of 5000 in the past financial year before slightly rebounding.

Several SES members say government red tape is partly to blame for the dwindling recruits, but acknowledge COVID-19 had affected numbers.

One Brisbane member said the organisation also failed to recognise prior learning, meaning "a qualified arborist could not operate a chainsaw until they pass SES training".

Another member said lack of incident activations meant some units were struggling to keep volunteers interested.

SES searching for a missing person at Coolnwynpin Creek in December. Picture: Liam Kidston.
SES searching for a missing person at Coolnwynpin Creek in December. Picture: Liam Kidston.

A Queensland Fire and Emergency Services spokesman said the organisation was monitoring personnel levels and operational demand to ensure staffing needs were met.

"A number of factors have contributed to the decline in SES membership numbers over the last five years including regular audits of membership records, leave, transfer of membership, change of membership status and general SES attrition," he said.

"Last year, the number of SES members remained steady and there has been an increase in overall membership numbers during the last six months."

SES volunteers are frequently called to respond to storm damage, missing persons searches and event traffic control.

About two dozen selfless SES volunteers were tasked to man Queensland's border on Christmas Day following its closure to Greater Sydney.

State authorities insist the SES membership decline will not affect its ability to respond to a serious weather event.

"The change in membership numbers has not affected the SES' ability to respond effectively during times of emergency and disaster in Queensland.

"All QFES personnel and volunteers play an important role in response efforts, which gives QFES the capability to meet the challenges posed by incidents and natural disasters."

Opposition Fire and Emergency Services spokesman Dale Last told parliament this week the "rapid decline" in SES personnel was concerning.

"We should all be concerned with the rapid decline in the numbers of SES personnel across the state - something that has not happened overnight but is of critical importance in terms of providing a response during times of emergency or disaster," he said.

"The past year has had, and the months ahead will continue to have, immense challenges."

Originally published as Red tape blamed for 'rapid' SES member decline


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