Wandong Juniors experienced a revival in 2016 thanks to the persistence of a brigade member’s daughter.
That single young voice led to the development of a two-year plan to deliver the Junior Volunteer Development Program (JVDP).
The Junior brigade launched with eight Juniors and four Junior leaders and has maintained stable numbers since, with a mix of brigade members’ children and young people from the community. The brigade now has seven Junior leaders.
The program runs every Monday night and the Junior leaders meet before each school term to plan the activities, while also ensuring that the young people help to plan activities they want to do.
The wide range of activities includes simulated search and rescue, first-aid training, hose bowling, radio relays and scavenger hunts. The activities prepare young members for becoming future firefighters, but also develop leadership and life skills for outside the brigade.
“The Junior Program isn’t all about becoming a firefighter,” Junior Leader Terry Roberts said. “We endeavour to give life skills to all our Juniors including the ones who don’t want to go on to become a senior member.”
Popular activities also include visits to other local brigades, as well as exchange visits to the local VICSES unit and guest visits from other emergency services such as Victoria Police.
The past few years have had their challenges, though during COVID-19 lockdowns Wandong Juniors kept connected by running online sessions and using quiz platforms such as Kahoot to continue to learn new skills and develop their knowledge. This also helped maintain social connections, which is an important part of being a Junior.
Developing an engaging relationship between the Juniors and the wider brigade is important to Wandong’s Junior leaders.
“The Junior brigade has a good relationship with the seniors,” Terry explained. “Juniors attend the brigade awards night, we hold combined training days and often invite a senior member to attend a Q&A night with the Juniors.
“Another way we build relationships across the brigade is to encourage a Junior to present the Junior brigade report at senior brigade meetings.”
Creating opportunities for the brigade to connect across all age groups of membership has led to the successful transition of several Juniors into senior membership, including Terry’s daughter Caitlin. She joined Wandong Juniors in 2016 when she was 11 years old. In 2018 she was elected Junior captain and in 2020 she won the Spirit of CFA Youth Award.
Her family and serving the community are both important to Caitlin.
“My dad has been in CFA since I was a Junior and CFA has always been in my life,” Caitlin said. “I went to the station with him and I was always interested by it. My involvement with CFA is partly a family tradition and partly to give back to the community to do something to help those who need it.”
In March 2023 Caitlin represented CFA at an International Women’s Day event run by the Emergency Services Foundation. In a session discussing how the sector could encourage more diversity, Caitlin spoke about her experiences as a young member of CFA, highlighting the importance of including young people in emergency services.
“As young people are starting to step up we’re seeing things change; there’s a lot more diversity,” Caitlin said. “We need diversity because with it comes people with different experiences and different answers to the same question and by working together they find solutions.
“I encourage brigades to get out in the community and try to recruit more young people. Young people connect with young people. We are the future of emergency services.”