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Recruits look to new career
Last week 23 new firefighter recruits took the first major step on a new career path by starting a 16-week residential recruit course at CFA’s State Training College Fiskville.
Members of the squad hail from various locations across Victoria (including Hamilton, Ballarat, Bendigo and Melbourne), with two recruits joining the group from New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Six are from volunteer brigades.
The course is rigorous and often challenging, designed to reflect the realities and demands of the job, and as far as possible emulating a station environment in terms of discipline, expectations and respect for the role firefighters play within communities. “This is a uniformed role and as such you have to achieve and maintain the respect of the people you serve,” says Operations Officer Chris Bigham, who is responsible for the recruits throughout their training and as they transition into fire stations and communities.
Competition for a place is intense: up to 25 people are accepted for any one course and the number of applicants can be as high as 1000. For all that Chris says CFA is constantly thinking about how to attract applicants of the quality they are looking for. Personal attributes as well as physical capability are top of mind – which means good people skills and sense of perspective.
“Above all we are looking for people that can work as a in a team and can contribute selflessly,” says Chris. “Firefighters undertake tasks that range from cleaning toilets to rescuing people. We need people who can do both ends of the scale without question. One of the realities of the job is at times you are conducting challenging rescues and that can mean dealing with fatalities. So the rigours of the job can be harsh and you are fulfilling the expectations of what the community expects from a firefighter.”
In Chris’s experience, the best demographic for the job tends to be 27 to 34-year-olds, married with a family. “They are stable, mature, have gained life and working experience, and are coming to us for the right reasons,” he says, explaining that younger applicants (provided they have enough driving experience) are accepted provided they have the right mindset for the job. The oldest recruit that Chris has trained began his course at the age of 45 and was equally successful as his younger squad mates. While recruits come from a range of working backgrounds, people with the right combination of team-orientated experience, manual dexterity and theoretical ability tend to rise to the top.
As a recruit course progresses, Chris’s mantra is balance and perspective. Taking work home at weekends is discouraged, and coursework is carefully structured via a computerised learning system that Chris has worked on for the last two years, entering in more than 1000 test questions (this will also see instructors spending more time with recruits and less time marking tests).
Part of the recruits’ training is becoming familiar with volunteer culture and getting a sense of the pride volunteers have for their brigade and community.
In Victoria, CFA brings together volunteer and career firefighters in a model that is quite unique both in Australia and worldwide. This ‘integrated’ model sees the role of paid career firefighters as essentially about supporting volunteers, which can involve leadership or coordination functions such as ensuring that training time, resources and equipment are utilised as effectively as possible. CFA is mid-way through a five-year program (‘Project 2016’) which is increasing the total number of permanent CFA career firefighter positions by 342, while developing infrastructure for integrated fire stations.
As with every other batch of recruits, members of this squad are aware that their first placement will almost certainly involve a move to another location within Victoria or some travel. The next steps are into the unknown but as Chris points out, the adventure will certainly be “action-packed”.
More information about career firefighter recruitment can be found here.
At this stage no new applications are being taken, but CFA advises anyone interested in firefighting as a career to keep an eye on the page from mid to late 2014.