CFA member Crystal James volunteers remotely, fulfilling a vital support role for Tarwin Lower and District brigade as its social media manager.
Even though distance was a factor, volunteer Crystal James knew she wanted to give back to her local brigade Tarwin Lower. She was thrilled to be able to join CFA in a supporting role.
“Joining as a volunteer has been incredibly rewarding. It's great to put your professional skills to good use for a volunteer organisation, but it's even better to step outside your comfort zone to learn something entirely new about emergency fire management,” Crystal said.
It was 2015 when Crystal met Tarwin Lower captain Michael Moore at a local emergency services annual fundraiser she was managing on behalf of the community. A resident of Venus Bay at the time, she was amazed by the commitment of the CFA volunteers who were supporting the event and joined the brigade as a volunteer. However, her work as part of Victoria’s COVID-19 response took her back to central Melbourne in early 2020 and she had to step down from her volunteer role.
The COVID-19 space gave Crystal her first taste of working in emergency management communications. But it was a 40-hectare bushfire in Tarwin Lower on New Year’s Eve 2021 that sparked her urge to once again give back to her community as a CFA volunteer.
She approached Michael to see if there was a way she could contribute remotely.
“Our brigade had a presence on Facebook in the past but with our focus on recruiting and training frontline response members, we just didn’t have resources to grow our online profile,” Michael said.
“So when Crystal asked about volunteering remotely, we jumped on the opportunity and asked her to run our Facebook page.
“We have two other volunteers who live outside the area but who perform community engagement activities locally for the brigade, so I knew it was something that would work for us.
“Crystal rejoined as a volunteer and we launched our new Facebook page in March; we haven’t looked back since.”
Crystal contributes between two to four hours a week in her volunteer role.
“I manage our social media presence including researching and developing content, monitoring VicEmergency and keeping abreast of local issues and CFA announcements,” she said.
“I also manage community engagement via our Facebook page making sure vital information is shared and answering any questions or messages from community members.”
Michael said it was fantastic to see the brigade’s Facebook page growing each week.
“Crystal is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what we are trying to do and it means everything to me as captain to know that I have that support to continue to build our online presence,” Michael said.
“The growing success of the page is helping our members feel prouder and more confident and we are finding it has really improved our engagement with our communities, particularly as we have a lot of new and transient residents due to our location.”
Even though she is volunteering remotely, Crystal said she feels connected to her brigade and what is happening locally.
“Michael and I check in regularly throughout the week to discuss content; he always finds the time to make sure I’m across what’s happening in Tarwin Lower and the broader community,” Crystal said.
“I attend bi-monthly brigade meetings either in person or via teleconference, and then try to get down as often as possible for our Sunday open stations or community engagement events.
“If there's a fundraising event, I volunteer to take on additional tasks, so some weeks my hours might be more, but getting down to the brigade is always a welcome change from the business of city life.”
Remote volunteering isn’t without its challenges, but Crystal says for her it continues to be a really positive experience.
“The desire to always be around the brigade is the hardest aspect of remote volunteering; I want to be there every Sunday and tag along for training,” Crystal said.
“But even though I'm committed to working in Melbourne for the near future, having the opportunity to volunteer remotely means I can participate in my brigade and CFA life in a really meaningful way.
“There are so many wonderful ways to serve your community through CFA, whether that is as a firefighter or in a support role like myself.
“And if you manage your time well and have a regular check-in schedule, you can still visit as regularly as possible.
“It's the best of both worlds.”