Ross Wisewould, captain of Tyers Fire Brigade in District 27.
The Captains Peer Mentor Program (CPMP), which launched in 2012, has rapidly spread throughout the state and is now run in 18 out of 21 CFA districts.
The program supports captains in their broader leadership role of brigade management, rather than focusing on incident command and control.
The CPMP complements any existing informal support relationships a captain has by introducing them to experienced peers who they might not normally encounter or have access to. The content is tailored to meet the specific needs of the participants and this content is largely chosen by them.
Partnering with a peer gives those being mentored the opportunity to work through issues or bounce around ideas about any aspect of their role that they find challenging or want to further develop. Each participant works on what is most important to them at that particular moment in their leadership journey.
Participants can also choose to work at a strategic level with their mentor, planning their legacy to their brigade. However, it’s important to note that the mentor role focuses on support and knowledge sharing, rather than telling participants what to do.
The program involves a series of role and professional development workshops for both mentors and mentees, facilitated partnership meetings where mentors and mentees are brought together, independent partnership meetings, and ongoing support and check-ins managed collaboratively by program staff.
Mentor/mentee partners negotiate their own arrangements for working together throughout the program. Some partnerships meet face-to-face, others talk on the phone or through email and texts, or a combination of all of these. Program evaluations show that how or when participants catch up is less important than the quality and consistency of communications.
Although it’s difficult to quantify the success of the CPMP, the people involved in the program, including deputy chief officers, assistant chief fire officers, commanders, Volunteer Sustainability team members and volunteers have observed its influences and impacts and often speak positively about its tailored and flexible approach. One of these is Ross Wisewould (pictured), captain of Tyers Fire Brigade in District 27.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Captains Peer Mentor Program as it was such a valuable experience,” Ross said.
“Through the CPMP I’ve developed strong working relationships with other captains. I also have a supportive and approachable mentor – Mark King, the captain of Yallourn North – who I now consider a friend.
“I’ve gained a multitude of new ideas, new ways of thinking and leadership skills. I cannot express how much the experience has had a positive impact in my role as captain.
“Thank you to all those involved in facilitating the program and to my mentor for his support, guidance and encouragement. It was a privilege to be a part of the Captains Peer Mentor Program.”
Although the program doesn’t claim to address everything a captain would find useful, captains have said that the mentoring process had helped them to become more comfortable with their broader leadership role. Furthermore, some captains have reported that their management of some brigade issues had improved thanks to enhanced knowledge and confidence gained from the program – and these benefits have a flow-on effect to brigade members.
At the heart of this peer mentor program are the volunteer participants who give so much time, energy and enthusiasm to CFA, to their communities and to their peers. They represent the lifeblood of CFA, and without their willingness to give so much of themselves, programs such as this would never progress beyond just being a good idea.