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Youth power rocks forum
The discussion was lively and lucid. The solutions proposed were carefully thought out and practical. Commitment to community was absolute.
Welcome to the Young Members Forum 2016, a formidable mind fest held at Victoria University last Saturday which was hosted by CFA.
The Forum brought together CFA members from across Victoria to discuss shared issues and – ultimately – strengthen the voice of youth within CFA and VFBV.
The 140-person CFA cohort was joined by volunteer representatives from St John Ambulance, Red Cross, SES, Life Saving Victoria, Coast Guard and Ambulance Victoria.
For Eaglehawk Fire Brigade Captain Hayden Allen, 27, the call coming from the Forum was one for change and, with it, the pace of change within CFA.
“Some brigades love having young members, for others it is a taboo. So how do we balance this within CFA?
“Young members need to understand that some things can’t change quickly. Older members need to understand that some things need to change – the use of social media, for instance.”
Hayden underscored “the pace of getting things done” as a challenge for young members. “People ask, “why does it take four-five months for a brigade transfer to come through?” As a captain, my message is “don’t give up. Just be persistent.”
For Bittern Fire Brigade’s Ally Smith, 26, the Forum confirmed that “youth needs to be represented and have its voice heard in CFA.”
“Right now,” Ally said, “youth equals inexperience which equals no voice. In a lot of brigades, it’s a case of waiting your turn. In my brigade, most people have 20 years on me - so I won’t be in my youth once I’ve waited my turn. When that happens, you miss out on the youth perspective.
CFA Chief Officer Joe Buffone was fully behind the Forum. “It’s critical that we understand what drives our younger members, that they have a voice within CFA, and that we listen to that voice. We need to harness their energy and take on board ideas for change," said Joe.
“The Forum is a fantastic initiative in all these regards. And special thanks must go to Sherri McKerley and Tim Firman of Learning & Volunteerism’s Diversity Team for championing and organising a landmark event.”
Forum organiser Sherri McKerley speaks with younger members most days in her role. Still, Sherri was taken aback at the response to one question asked at the Forum. “They were asked, “Is it easy to get into leadership?” Not one of the 140 people in the room put up their hand.
"This group loves CFA. That’s why they want to fix the things they see as not working. However, the lack of ability to get into leadership roles is a real barrier. And this is a generation that isn’t used to waiting around to get things done.”
With this in mind, the Forum members will soon share thoughts on pressing issues and recommendations from the day with CFA management and VFBV.
Ally Smith, for one, is hoping to see one initiative in particular put forward. “Our group had the idea of a new Brigade Management Team position in each BMT – a youth engagement officer. That forces a younger perspective on to the BMT.
“We absolutely need the older generation and their experience. But who is going to lead when they are not there? So CFA needs to grow and grow with a changing community.”
All images courtesy of Blair Dellemijn.