Speaking about a recent recruitment drive following the devastating fires in 2019-20, Wodonga West Fire Brigade 2nd Lieutenant Dave Rossiter was well aware of the hurdles.
“Our biggest issue was there was no formal process for how people joined and integrated into the brigade,” Dave said. “The historical process was to pair a new recruit with a senior member who became their mentor and their role was to answer questions and help them work out their training needs.
“This may have been suitable when there were only one or two new recruits at a time, and these senior members didn’t really have a consistent structure to work to and the attrition rate was high.”
To make matters worse, about half the brigade members on the books hadn’t been seen for two or more years and only about 12 people turned out regularly. Dave knew things had to change. Before becoming the training officer, he was the recruitment officer for four-and-a-half years and the 2019-20 fire season gave him the opportunity he was hoping for.
“After the really bad fire season our district office had significant interest from people wanting to join brigades,” Dave continued.
But the brigade was too busy with the fire session to follow up the enquiries until halfway through the year.
“I contacted all of them and interviewed most of them and we initially had 24 new recruits. These members had to do their General Firefighter training, and I used this opportunity as a catalyst for something else I was keen to achieve.
“We didn’t have enough individual mentors for 24 new people, so I contacted some of the senior members who were disengaged from the brigade and requested them to take on a new responsibility. I formed five new recruit ‘crews’ which included two senior members as their crew leaders/mentors and four to five new recruits, similar to a strike team formation.
"My aim was to re-engage the senior members, and fortunately I found that some of them got back their passion to lead and be involved with the brigade.”
Kris Dykes was one of those who’d become disengaged mainly because of a busy life and believing that he didn’t have a place in the brigade.
“My skill set wasn’t being used by the brigade, so I didn’t prioritise my involvement in brigade activities,” Kris said.
Since taking on the role of new recruit mentor/crew leader, Kris has regained his passion to lead within the brigade, and he was elected as 1st lieutenant in the recent brigade elections.
Following the successful completion of her General Firefighter training, new member Janelle Beach said doing the training with a small group of people and a senior member as a mentor was an effective way to transition into the brigade.
“It helped create faster connections with members and created a team ‘feel’ right from the beginning,” Janelle said. “We not only wanted to be successful in our training for ourselves, but also wanted that success for everyone in our group, without being lost as ‘just a number’ among recruits.
“This approach really brought out a close-knit team environment within the broader team of 24 new recruits. We encouraged each other at every step of the training and assessment process which ensured we all passed together.”
At the end the recruitment process, the brigade gained 13 new operational members who completed their General Firefighter training in February, and two new non-operational members.
“Our new members have continued to breathe life into the brigade and weekly training is attended by an average of 16 new and senior members,” Dave said.
“The whole process has revitalised the culture in the brigade.”
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