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Em aims to fly high

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Mannerim Fire Brigade has its own father- daughter duo, Jeff and Em Avery.

Em aims to fly high

Em and Jeff after her first big job - an 80 acre grassfire

Victorian Youth Week is a celebration of people aged 12–25, shining a light on the enormous talent, creativity and community spirit of young Victorians.

Youth Week 2020, originally planned for 3-12 April 2020 has been postponed to later in the year as part of widespread measures to combat coronavirus (COVID-19).  

More information on the postponement of events can be found on the Youth Central website.

Even with the postponement of official Youth Week celebrations, we think it’s important to continue to celebrate the enormous contribution of youth in our organisation.  

Mannerim brigade is in the Bellarine Group, approximately 25 minutes out of Geelong in District 7, South West Region.  

The brigade has a strong Juniors program and very successful running team, with 10 Junior members currently registered. Additionally, the brigade has 21 members under the age of 25 out of a total membership of 65. This means that 32 per cent of the membership is made up of youth (those aged 12-24). The majority (aged 16-24) also started their journey with CFA as part of the Juniors program.

We spoke to Em about her experience, and to her Dad (and Juniors coach and Brigade Lieutenant) Jeff Avery on the value of youth in CFA.

We chatted to them while they were taking a lunch break from the family earth moving business. Jeff happily talked about the Brigade Juniors program, his role as coach and mentor for the young members in the program and supporting their transition to seniors, and what it was like having his daughter in the brigade.

"Seeing the kids develop their skills through the Juniors program is fantastic," Jeff said.

"They pick up new skills and information really quickly. With the way we run our program, it gives them a really good understanding for when they’re ready to take the step to join as seniors.

"We’ve had Juniors who have gone on to become career firefighters or taken roles in other emergency service organisations like Victoria Police and the Army, from the community-based program and experience we’ve been able to provide, which is fantastic."

Em didn’t have much choice really, about joining Juniors!

"I used to come to the station with Dad when I was younger and ran along the side of the running track, watching them when they were practising. I reckon I beat them every time!’ Em said.  

"I love the competitions and getting out and meeting new people.  

"I’m good friends with the Juniors in Connewarre brigade. We compete against each other but we’re good friends as well. Juniors was something I’d do during the off-season of playing netball."

We asked if things were a bit different at the brigade, given the relationship Jeff and Em have.  

"Em’s treated the same as the other members in the brigade – although, I’m obviously a bit more protective of her," Jeff said.

"We clash on the odd occasion but that’s pretty normal. She gives me a hand to coach the Juniors and she’s quick to pull me up if I’m not doing it right!  She’ll say ‘that’s not the way you taught us to do it'," Jeff added. 

"There was never a question about joining as a senior after Juniors." Em said.  

"I always wanted to help fight fires and help the community.

"Although it can be a bit intimidating stepping up to seniors – especially when there are members who have been around a while and know so much and I’m still learning. But they’re great and support me to learn and help me through it, which is really good. 

"It was a bit tough to get to training for the first couple of years after I became a senior. I had Airforce Cadets on the same night as Brigade training, but that didn’t stop me. 

"I would come up to the station on Sundays and any other chance I got so that I could maintain my skills. Air cadets was a great experience and I was able to achieve the rank of corporal. I love flying and started taking flying lessons a few years ago. I’m working towards getting my pilot licence – maybe one day I’ll be able to have a crack at water bombing!" Em added. 

"It can be a bit intimidating when the Juniors become seniors and finish their Min Skills. There can sometimes be an expectation that they know everything, but we know that it’s something that comes with time and experience," Jeff said.

"We take the time to talk about a job when we’re on the way – what to expect, what do etc, and the crew takes time to mentor the younger ones. I normally round them up and check that they’re OK and understand what’s going on and give them that support. 

"There are sometimes challenges when 16 and 17 year olds start turning out, because they can’t always get themselves to the station until they get their licence at 18. A lot of the kids finish Juniors then have a break - and come back after uni and after they’ve got their licence.

"Being from the same family makes it easier to get to calls, though Em gets a bit annoyed if I'm unable to turn out because it means she may miss out too!" Jeff added.

"Overall, I’m just taking it as I go and enjoying my time in the brigade," Em said.

"My friends ask me what I’ve been up to – and boast about having a friend who is a firefighter. They like hearing some of the stories – and are a little bit surprised that you can be a firefighter at 16."

We asked Em and Jeff if they had a favourite memory from their time at the brigade.

"It’s hard to pick a favourite memory – there are so many!

"I really enjoy collecting for the Good Friday Appeal. It’s a great opportunity to get out in to the community, meet people, do heaps of great work – and to connect with the other people in the b.

"We also do the Easter Bunny and Santa run through the local caravan park, which is always fun.    

"Also, my first big fire was an 80 acre grass fire in a neighbouring Brigade area.  It took around six hours to put out. 

"I wasn’t even on our truck for that one, but the crew I was with knew that I was pretty new and they looked out for me.  I remember that my PPC was still new and bright, so someone joked about going and rolling in a burnt out area to try and take the shine off it!" Em added.

"A pretty good moment for me, was when the Brigade had a turnout, and Em and I had just missed the truck." Jeff said. 

"Afterwards, one of the members who did respond said that if he had known we were coming, he would have stepped off the truck to give Em a go.  It’s great that the members are supportive in that way.

"It’s great having the younger members in the brigade, they bring a different perspective.  

"There are big gaps between age groups in the Brigade membership, and we can sometimes get a bit bogged down in ‘old school’ thinking, so it’s great to have the younger ones keeping us on our toes, asking questions and wanting to learn more.  

"Best of all, the more younger people you have in the Brigade, the more people they attract. They often bring their friends along which helps boost the membership." Jeff added,

On being asked what Em would say to any young person who was thinking about joining CFA, she was quick to respond.  

‘Do it. It is an amazing experience. You get to meet lots of people and learn new things. It can change your own life, as well as to those around you. It such a great insight in to the community.’
A man and a young lady in a competition of firefighting skills

Em and Jeff competing together in the District Championships in 2019

A young female standing in front of a yellow light aircraft

Em in her Juniors uniform at her first flying lesson

A female firefighter on a firetruck

Em at her first big grassfire