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A brigade as a small business
When Diana Ferguson was elected Bayswater captain four years ago she became the first female captain of an urban brigade.
Now she and the brigade management committee (BMC) are painstakingly planning her handover of the role in two years; her keen successor is being actively mentored; all members have updated personal development plans, and the brigade has a five-year business plan.
“We have a blend of business-minded members who regard the brigade as a part-time unpaid job,” said Diana.
“New members and those transferring from another brigade go through a reference check and meet with the captain, our human resources team leader and first lieutenant so they understand what is expected of them. We make it very clear: they will be required at Tuesday night and Sunday morning training.”
It’s a practical and professional response to Bayswater’s risk profile: the fifth-largest industrial suburb in Melbourne with a significant road network and train line and a brigade of 80 members (including Juniors) who attend between 450 and 500 incidents a year on top of their substantial commitment to community engagement. Their breathing apparatus van is the busiest in Victoria.
“In order to keep up the momentum and match the area’s growth and diversity, we have to succession plan or we’ll burn our people out,” continued Diana. “To protect lives and property, we have to get people interested and keep them by offering a training program that’s going to progress their CFA career. Their personal development plan helps them set goals and look to the future with training structured according to their ambitions.
“They make a commitment to the brigade and can see that the brigade has also made a commitment to them.”
Brigade elections are also structured with those interested in becoming officers expressing their interest and going through an interview process.
“The BMC will endorse candidates at the end of that process,” explained Diana, “but we’ll also continue to work with those who aspire to leadership but aren’t there yet.
“The structure provides guidance. It allows me to step back, look at the bigger picture and strategically plan while the lieutenants do the day-to-day running of the brigade. The brigade runs with or without me on the fireground although it’s also important for the captain to lead by example.”
In fact Diana attends between 150 and 200 calls a years. With a career as an SES operations officer, she is one of a number of Bayswater members who have used their high-level brigade skills to transition into paid emergency services roles.
While Bayswater’s member development framework draws on work done by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, CFA’s Brigade Sustainability project is now, in turn, benefitting from Bayswater’s expertise.
“We’re rolling out planning to help brigades look at where they want to be and how to get there,” said North East BSP team leader Damien Pearce. “We’ve adopted Bayswater’s individual goal setting into our brigade action plans. It helps a brigade work out how it can meet the needs of members and vice versa.
“Bayswater has a clearly-defined leadership pathway which navigates members gradually through the appropriate training courses. By the time they step up to lead they are well prepared.”
Brigades interested in working with the Brigade Sustainability team should talk to their BASO and operations officer.