The devastation of the Ash Wednesday bushfires left young mum Sue Sheldrick wanting to do more to help affected communities. While she was unaware at the time, this grim start to 1983 was also the start of a ground-breaking journey for both Sue and CFA.
Sue joined Research Fire Brigade in May 1983, before transferring to the Wattle Glen brigade in 1986, where she undertook all the training required to become an operational firefighter with a busy urban brigade.
When she relocated her young family to regional Victoria in 1994, Sue transferred to the Killawarra brigade. Almost immediately, Sue found herself longing to don a BA set again and respond to structural fires. To satisfy this, she also joined the somewhat busier Wangaratta brigade, holding dual membership at both brigades.
Sues desire to do more with CFA didn’t stop there. Following a brigade election in 1994, Sue became the first female Captain in the history of CFA, a role she held for almost six years. This was an almost accidental situation, after the existing Captain moved away from the area, forcing an election to be called.
Sue reflects on this as a time of symbolism for women, which opened the floodgates for women to choose their own journey in CFA.
“I feel proud to know I’ve been part of a change, which was an evolution of women’s roles not only in emergency management, but within the community in general,” she said.
The significance of being the first female Captain for CFA, along with her ongoing achievements in emergency management is what led to a street at the newest VEMTC facility being named in her honour.
“I’m really honoured to receive this nomination. However, it’s not about me. It’s an opportunity to put female firefighters, future and existing CFA members of all callings on the map. Literally on the map, by way of a street named in my honour,” she said.
“This recognises the work that females have done for a long time in CFA. It’s not always talking on the radio or cooking with the Ladies Auxiliary. There are many women who fit in volunteering duties around family and work commitments.”
Whilst still an active operational firefighter, Sue’s main focus is her Incident Management Team (IMT) role as a level 3 Public Information Officer (PIO).
Sue says: “I still try and jump on a truck where I can, but my focus is on now on my IMT role, as these roles are so important. My PIO role dovetails into all the conversations I’ve had with community members over the past 38 years.”
Sue’s journey has come full circle since the fateful Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983. While she initially offered assistance to her local CFA brigade, Sue ended up volunteering with SES, aiding in local recovery support.
Along with 38 years of dedicated CFA service, Sue is also an employee of SES doing what she loves best, assisting the community.