Brigades of CFA: St Andrews

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St Andrews Fire Brigade have tackled dwindling member numbers head-on with a recruitment campaign aimed at increasing the diversity within the brigade.


The brigade, first formed in 1916, now have a 35 per cent women membership base, following a push led by Captain Matthew Ryan. Matthew became captain of the brigade in 2017, after first joining in 2001 aged 11.

He said increasing diversity was a key priority for him when he took over the reins six years ago.

“When I first became captain of St Andrews, the brigade was very male-dominant," he said.

"When I first started in CFA there were lots of women in the brigade, but they either slowly left the brigade, moved away from the area or passed away – so that next generation of firefighters never really came through.

“In the early 2000s, we experienced a lot of large campaign fires, including of course Black Saturday, and a lot of attention was turned to operations.

"We weren’t as focused on increasing our membership, but as the seasons went on we started to realise that a lot of our members had left and our numbers were growing smaller.

“When I became captain, I was adamant I wanted to increase the diversity in the brigade. We shifted our focus towards encouraging women to join and helping them to see the benefits and that they were welcome in our brigade.”

St Andrews fire brigade

Matthew said in the past five years about 95 per cent of new members were women.

“We’ve got some really active brigade members who are women, including my wife Kelly who recently became our brigade’s first-ever woman chairperson," he said.

"We also have new members who have never volunteered before this and they’re absolutely loving it.”

Matthew believes diversity is important to bring fresh ideas.

“It’s nice to have the ability to bounce ideas off people who may think differently to you and who can bring new ideas to the table," he said.

"It’s important because we can sometimes get stuck in the mindset of ‘this is how we’ve always done things’, so it’s great to be able to have people (of any gender) with a fresh perspective who can say ‘why don’t we try something different?’.

“There are things that I don’t see that my wife sees, and things that older members don’t that younger members do and vice versa. We can all benefit from increasing diversity, identifying issues that are out there that we can work together to fix.”

St Andrews

Situated on the rural-urban fringe, St Andrews is a brigade with its own unique challenges.

“We’re very much in a rural setting but only a 10-minute drive from urban locations," Matthew said.

"A lot of people assume that we’re an urban area so there’s that misunderstanding. We’re very much rural and even compared to a lot of our neighbouring brigades we’re so different and have different challenges.

“Our location means that it’s tricky to do community activities like fundraising and recruitment as there’s lots of misunderstanding.

St Andrews members

"Many people who move to the area think we’re career firefighters and we have to really push the message that we’re actually all volunteers.

“We have to be innovative in our approach and with this next generation of members coming onboard, there’s all these new ideas for the brigade and it’s just fantastic.”


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Submitted by Tiahn Wright