Band together a network of determined women, eager CFA members in training and the helpful hands of instructors and you’ve got yourself the creation of unintentional magic at CFA’s Bangholme Training Campus on Monday, 1 May.
While five brigades came together, the story first starts with three women who met and bonded at the South East Region Women’s Network Challenge Camp earlier this year.
Four weeks post camp, and Edithvale’s Rebekah Tuckwell, Keysborough’s Shandelle Ross and Carrum Downs’ Claire Maloney have already joined forces to tackle common themes – one being to create new training opportunities.
“Following the camp at the end of March, we continued chatting and began to collectively identify things that we as women could be doing to enhance our skills and better support other women in CFA,” Rebekah said.
“We started looking into it ourselves, and being highly organised and keen, we got together and ultimately ended up with a plan.
“It’s all moved so fast since then and we’re in the process of organising a skill maintenance opportunity for the entire South East Group, men and women, for the end of June. We’ve planned out everything, we’re finalising all the approvals and locking in the instructors.”
Rebekah praised the work of Olivia Duffey who leads the South East Region Women’s Network Challenge Camps. The benefits from the camp continue to grow, with the formation of a brand-new network of contacts and support proving to be the most valuable.
“We’re now motivated and inspired to realise some of the positive outcomes from these types of initiatives and demonstrate the value we can receive in return.” she said.
The trio are also working on a couple of other initiatives for the women of CFA’s District 8.
Having contacted the Bangholme Training Centre and Langwarrin Captain to make use of their Practice Area for Drills (PAD) resources following a training night, Rebekah planned to investigate whether footage could be captured at the facility to align with and promote one of their initiatives.
“I had organised to take a few of the newer women from Edithvale with me to keep them engaged and give them some more exposure to the type of environment the PAD offers, and Shandelle and Claire decided to join so we could meet and discuss our initiatives further,” she said.
“Each month the District 8 Women’s Network do a photo competition, so we thought it would be a fun idea to get a photo of us with the fire in the background and have three different brigades in one photo.
“Once we arrived, we found that both Langwarrin and Frankston were training and both brigades had members participating who were women.
“We spoke to some of the members and the PAD supervisor, and they were all so friendly and welcoming. We told them our idea of incorporating the PAD into our photo and they thought while we were all there, we may as well get all the women involved.
“In the end it evolved into a much bigger production which saw a dozen women across five brigades participating while the male members helped with filming, directing and contributing to some of the creativity of the shoot. It was a really cool opportunity for us to take advantage of and an amazing atmosphere of collaboration and support.”
Rebekah reinforced that, although the projects they are working towards are about getting more women within CFA engaged and celebrated, it was also about ensuring they remain engaged once they are members and building their confidence to succeed as firefighters.
“The big thing we’ve noticed from the camp is retention, and we were learning all the different reasons why brigades struggle, and for some women they find it difficult because there are only a few women at their brigade,” she said.
“Edithvale has a high ratio of female operational firefighters compared to other brigades and that was something I didn’t have too much awareness on, nor did I appreciate the challenges this can create for some women.
“We want to make sure women know they have other women around them to talk to, refer to and ask questions and provide them with support and information that broadens their horizons.”
Rebekah, Shandelle and Claire, who currently operate under the moniker of ‘South East Female Inclusive Rescue & Emergency’, all bring diverse perspectives to the group.
With Shandelle having years of leadership experience and recently elected as Keysborough’s 2nd Lieutenant for the next term, Claire being relatively new to Carrum Downs and fresh off her Low Structure course and Rebekah having been with Edithvale for five years now and currently Secretary and a top responder, the trio are able to share their experiences at different stages of their volunteering journey.
Watch this space for some District 8 Women’s Network initiatives as well as some exciting opportunities for the South East Group more broadly that, whilst led and inspired by passionate women, are designed for the benefit of all and more importantly an inclusive and safe work environment at all levels of CFA.