During National Volunteer Week, we recognise some of the volunteers who won Spirit of CFA Awards at the award ceremony last Sunday.
Congratulations to Steve Lewis, a longstanding dedicated CFA volunteer in District 5, for winning the Excellence in Sustainability Planning Spirit of CFA Award.
Steve became Dundas Group Officer in 2015 and received his 40-year service medal in 2016.
Steve was concerned about the lack of succession planning in many of the 18 brigades in his group, the sustainability of the brigades, and the vast distances between them which led to volunteers feeling a lack of support.
Members tended to behave in a reactive way, rather than taking a strategic approach. Many of the aging captains had been in their roles for a long time and, although they maintained the brigades, there was no collaboration to ensure best practice across the group. Also, Steve identified a need for brigades to give younger members the confidence and support to step up and become future brigade leaders.
Steve realised it would take a huge commitment to ensure younger members were developed to their full potential, so he decided to lease his farm for two years to give himself the time.
In May 2017, Steve discussed his plans with a group of captains and his first action was to set up an Executive Group of five deputy group officers. The five volunteers who formed this new group were all ex-captains with excellent communication skills.
The DGOs already had responsibility for three brigades each prior to Steve becoming group officer, but Steve strengthened this structure to make it work better.
“We needed a system of communication that worked,” said Steve. “I ask the DGOs for their opinions and get them involved. They bring their thoughts to Executive meetings from all parts of the group.
“I didn’t want the DGOs to be simply ‘yes’ and ‘no’ people. I wanted them to help and advise me. And once you involve them, your group is much better.”
At Executive Group meetings, the DGOs developed strategies to ensure brigades operated with best practice. In the fire season, the DGOs attended fires and supported captains in their decisions.
Members with the potential to become captains were asked about their expectations and aspirations, and how the group leaders could support them. Captains were also given the support they needed so they could lead their brigades with confidence.
Brigade members were given additional support and mentoring by the DGOs, and Steve contacted potential captains to build rapport and establish supportive relationships.
In the last round of elections, seven new captains were elected, and Steve invited them to a training session. He facilitated conversations about the new captains’ expectations, and captains discussed scenarios to help them gain confidence.
“I remember when I was handed the captain’s red helmet and told ‘good luck’. I didn’t get much mentoring,” said Steve. “The seven new captains know they have support. Communication is what it’s all about.
“I make sure brigade members know they are wanted and needed.”