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Captain Wood thinks big picture
Captain Vivienne Wood is a big picture thinker and a grassroots leader. When she isn’t working and training with Paynesville brigade, she’s out training the rest of the region.
Since joining CFA 18 years ago, Vivienne hasn’t stopped learning and Gippsland Manager of Training and Development Shaun Riley is glad she’s equally passionate about sharing her knowledge.
“I’ve got to know Vivienne because she’s incredibly proactive when it comes to training – her and her husband often come along to Mallacoota and Omeo to help deliver training,” says Shaun.
“What’s impressive about Vivienne is that she’s focused on the larger community – not just the one she lives in but CFA as a whole. She’s heavily involved in training both locally and regionally and regularly gives up whole weekends to help educate her ‘extended family’.
“She also attends courses just to maintain her skills - she’s still willing to sit in even if she’s already got the qualifications and make sure her skills are up to date.”
Vivienne’s love for training was inspired by Captain Rob Ashworth when she first joined, and she credits him with investing in her his “…knowledge, time and passion for training and sharing knowledge.”
“Rob spent hours of teaching and developing me. He answered all my questions and mentored me a hell of a lot at incidents. In those early days I didn’t have as much confidence and he’d say ‘some day I may not be here and you may get stuck with the vest so be strong’. Two years later I became his secretary and, through this, learned all about the inner workings of CFA.”
She’s since repaid the investment with interest.
“I’ve been very fortunate to travel East Gippsland to conduct and participate in training sessions for some years now. It’s allowed me to visit some of the most beautiful places in East Gippsland and some of the most amazing people – from the practical men of Gelantipi to Mallacoota who just completed their breathing apparatus training, to high country places like Swifts Creek and Omeo where I spent hours learning about pumps.”
“As a captain I need to stay abreast of training and always be refreshing my skills and sharing knowledge so I keep relevant. Every time I share information I learn twice as much back in return – which is really good trading figures in anyone’s books.
“I love watching our members come home from training and share what they’ve learned. We’ve got a group that just did their wildfire response course, where they learned to read a Macarthur tool and one member is now sensational at reading a compass.
“We’ll now pull together for a night to share they’re experience – they can reaffirm what they’ve learned and it gives us the chance to review. That should be what training is – internal review and sharing the knowledge. Knowledge is an incredibly powerful thing, but it’s more powerful when you share it.
“It’s this culture of knowledge sharing that’s allowed us to move beyond the days of Linton and the massive challenge that saw Minimum Skills introduced. It’s the future and my succession plan to retirement.”
While brigade captain responsibilities take up a lot of time, Vivienne sees training as a crucial part of the role.
“As one structural instructor told me, you can’t pull up your socks if you don't have any on. It’s each brigade’s responsibility to train our members in minimum skills – to put the socks on new members and then pass them on to the training department for polishing.
“A captain’s role should always be highly practical. You can’t wrap yourself up in books or lock yourself away with the red helmet. You need balance and there’s nothing better than training to get you out with the brigade. It’s about allowing others to reach their full potential and you have to have a training plan to make yourself redundant.
“It’s really important to be part of the crew and share the passion, muck in with them, clean the canvas, wash the truck. Working alongside each other gives us an opportunity to understand each other and at the end of the day it’s about being a team. That’s what training is all about – if we’re not a team we’re screwed.
“I’ve also got the best group of officers – they’re sensational. Our secretary and treasurer make it all worthwhile, they’re amazing. We’re an active brigade and try to keep up with everything that happens in CFA around training and community education, and our officers really share the load.
Vivian was first introduced to CFA by her husband Gary, who’d been with Paynesville brigade for over seven years and knew she’d enjoy it – and also that her truck licence would come in handy. She’s now in her second term as captain.
“I already had my licence as I’ve driven interstate trucks and a bulldozer. I also knew some of the guys and that it was a really good crew and thought, ‘why not? I’ll give it a go’. I absolutely loved it.
“I’ve since spent lots of weekends and sessions at our training ground at Kilmany and would come home with my head thumping from all the experiences they stuffed into us. There was nothing like it for a new kid on the block.
“I had lots of questions and drove our training department mad, and my operations manager sent me everywhere to grow and learn. Some time later I was asked if I would like to be mentored into becoming a volunteer instructor as they thought I had something to offer – this started me on an a road of development that still hasn’t ended.
“I did a lot of study and still have to do papers, demonstrations, explain myself to my peers, participate in additional training to become a workplace trainer and assessor and it still goes on today.
“It never ceases to amaze me the passion that members have for learning and their diligence to commit to learning. Everyone has that light bulb moment when you truly understand what the hell the message is, and the look on a firefighter’s face when this happens is a true delight to share.”
Vivienne’s favourite training to deliver is breathing apparatus training.
“It’s the culmination of a lot work for members to get to that point. You don’t just chuck on breathing apparatus and walk away – a lot of people along the way have contributed to a firefighter’s learning to get them there. We train you but you keep wearing it at home – it’s the role of the brigade to foster that knowledge and enthusiasm and keep learning and moving forward.
“It also requires a lot of courage to decide you’re ready to operate as a two-person team in an extremely hostile, hot and smoky environment. I’ve seen people come with great trepidation and walk away with the skills and it’s wonderful.”
Her least favourite training is anything that involves ladders – since falling off one as a child.
“The crew all knows their captain doesn’t go up a ladder unless things are desperate. It’s been quite a journey trying to overcome my fear. We recently did a course in responding to remote and isolated incidents and it was hysterical – everyone knows I don’t do ladders but we all went up. You can’t ask someone else to do something you’re not comfortable and competent doing yourself.”
What’s next for Paynesville brigade?
“We’re about to start a run of burn offs, that will be pretty big leading up to summer, as well as a bunch of small equipment maintenance. We’ve also got a night of burnover drills with our three different trucks – one with burnover protection and one without, as well as a pumper.
“We’ve been really lucky to have a couple of incredibly gifted structure fire instructors and Shaun Riley is thought of highly across East Gippsland. Ross McGregor had generated a real hunger for knowledge before he retired, so it was good that Shaun came in and polished us off – and stuck around. He’s wonderful. We’re really lucky for both Ross and Shaun.”
And life outside CFA?
“For one month of the year Gary and I take our caravan and run away. I completely shut the door on my CFA life and open the door on the caravan and go fishing.”
She doesn’t lock the door though – during her last trip to Marlo in April, Vivienne still managed to bump into the Marlo and Orbost fire brigades and watch the Orbost brigade march in the Anzac day parade.
“CFA has invested in me heavily one way or another and as Shaun would say I am a CFA junkie. I won’t stop until I can’t go to the fire station any more. It never ceases to amaze me what is out there in CFA land and what is on offer to us as members.”
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