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From the CEO – out and about at CFA
After two months as Chief Executive, I continue to be inspired by the work done by all CFA members.
I have had the great pleasure of meeting firefighters and support staff working on the devastating fire around Wye River. Many of these people live in the area and didn’t get to celebrate Christmas because they were out on the fire front protecting homes and property. Some lost their homes while helping others save theirs.
As part of my program to get around and engage with CFA people all over the state, this week I met the team at District 24 HQ in Wodonga and later attended the Barnawartha/Indigo Valley brigades’ get together where I enjoyed a barbecue with volunteers and their families. Brigades from the Rutherglen Group were actively involved in the suppression of the Barnawartha/Indigo Creek Road fire that burnt some 6,500 hectares of country.
I took the opportunity to speak to many of these CFA families and to thank them for their support of the firefighters who responded to that dangerous fire.
On Thursday I went to District 9 HQ and Warragul Fire Station and met a range of volunteers and staff members. Later on I called in to the Leongatha Fire Station and met members of the Strzelecki Group of brigades.
My visits to meet and thank our people have reinforced my firm view that volunteers and career firefighters are two sides of the one coin. We need both to provide the service we do 24/7. The Victorian community needs both.
Are we actually 'One CFA'?
One of the biggest personal observations that hit me on joining CFA was the division, either real or imagined, between volunteers and career firefighters.
The specific things I have noticed have been around 'symbols' supporting that difference in ways that are not positive or helpful.
For example, some of the infrastructure arrangements in integrated stations create distinct work and relaxation spaces, separating career members deliberately from volunteer members, although they all work in the one place, trying to achieve the same things.
I also observed other variances to distinguish our membership groups, such as different uniforms including coloured stripes on helmets which to me all reinforce a visual divide between members of our organisation. I think this is unhelpful for the organisation – particularly given our values, and our vision of ‘One CFA’ – and to be brutally honest I see it eating away at the very fabric of the organisation, causing some dedicated and committed members of CFA to become disaffected and sometimes alienated.
Although I have been CEO for a little over two months, I think it’s time that we refocus some attention around the concept of ‘One CFA’ and what it means. ‘One CFA’ is not a hollow platitude or meaningless rhetoric. It is a principle that underpins one of the key values of the organisation. It’s about common purpose and inclusive culture.
I believe there is no place to distinguish between groups, whether they are career, volunteers, support or corporate members of CFA – and whether full-time or part-time.
Our objective should be to continue to unify the organisation, and consciously stamp out any delineating actions or symbols in CFA. In emergencies, more than at any other time, we need to be one organisation, one service, one CFA. After all, fires and emergencies don’t discriminate, recognise or respect any differences between career firefighters and volunteers. Why should we?