Today I announced my resignation from CFA. It has been an extremely tough decision to leave the team that I feel so privileged to work with, and this has led me to a great deal of reflection about the last few years.
Last month I celebrated my fourth anniversary at CFA. I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities and experiences afforded to me during this time, but I'm sure many will understand when I say it feels like a lot longer than four years. In fact when I reflect on what we've achieved from the function of Community Safety it is quite remarkable.
When I first arrived at CFA I knew little about the organisation or Victoria for that matter, and was the butt of many geography jokes among our regions for many months. Now I feel that I know more about the state of Victoria than the entire country of my birth - Wales.
One of the first challenges that became clear to me was the need to align the work done by Regions and Headquarters. I saw great work and innovation happening by both, but often in isolation to each other. I appreciate all the support I received from the Regional Managers, Managers Community Safety and Regional staff to rectify this, and indeed throughout my entire time at CFA. I'm happy to say that our efforts resulted in improved collaboration and clear accountabilities between myself and the Regions.
I also took it upon myself to improve the strategic direction of Community Safety. The strategy development was far reaching and took over a year for all levels of the organisation to participate, and of particular note was the contribution of our volunteer members from the Community Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC). This widespread consultation ultimately delivered the Community Safety Strategic Framework 2025, which set out our key challenges, directions and outcomes as well as medium term strategies to advance towards our vision. This framework has since served us well thanks to the extensive contributions made by volunteers, regional and headquarters staff, and has become a cornerstone for me as a Director.
Whenever you decide to leave a role, you ask yourself ‘did I make a difference?'. I only need to look at the growth I've seen in the team around me and what we've achieved together to answer with a resounding ‘yes'.
Medium term strategies adopted for the Community Safety Strategic Framework 2025 formed the key plank to the subsequent Bushfire Preparedness Program, which delivered some groundbreaking programs such as ‘Bushfire Home Advice Service' and the ‘Household Bushfire Self Assessment Tool'.
The support I have received from our volunteers and CSAC has led to significant achievements. When we established standard roadside signage for burn off notifications there was an immediate reduction in fire calls, which resulted in less impact on volunteer time and improved safety.
We delivered the Advanced Diploma in Public Safety (Community Safety and Emergency Management) to senior Community Safety staff and now have 16 successful graduates.
We have grown our relationships across government, working extensively with other agencies to deliver widespread changes following the VBRC interim and final report including the development of One Source One Message, Integrated Fire Management Planning, Fire Danger Ratings, Neighbourhood Safer Places, Township Protection Plans, Victorian Fire Risk Register and changes to many educational products and new programs. Who would have thought we'd have an audio and plain text version of the FireReady Kit, as well as the Fire Danger Ratings and Bushfire Survival Guide translated into 32 languages?
Without the hard work and collaboration with our agency partners, in particular DSE, MFB and DHS, we would not have been able to lead and deliver the Living with Fire Community Engagement Framework 2012 - which was held up by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission as best practise.
We have facilitated research into the effectiveness of the Wildfire Management Overlay following Black Saturday, co-sponsoring a new single site assessment process with our key partners the Building Commission and DPCD, research into household intentions and have moved way past industry knowledge in our learnings and understanding of fire behaviour and its impact in the landscape and on houses.
I'm proud to have played a pivotal leadership role on the national stage working on the National Disaster Resilience Strategy, National Community Safety Group, National Arson Mitigation Taskforce, becoming Chair of the AFAC Community Safety Sub Education Group and having the opportunity to speak at national and international conferences.
During the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) I personally supported 11 witnesses from Community Safety who gave expert evidence and made a positive contribution to both the interim and final VBRC reports, which will make a long term difference to safety from bushfire.
I too gave evidence in the Land Use Planning hearings during the VBRC, which led to the Ministerial amendment of the Victorian Planning Provisions and subsequent wholesale adoption of the Wildfire Management Overlay (WMO). It also led to changes to the Chief Officer's powers on Fire Prevention notices and other enduring changes for the safety of Victorians. While I never would have picked myself as an expert witness, I will always appreciate the immense support I received from everyone to become an authority on the incredible work done by our staff over the years.
Following Black Saturday our staff stepped up time after time to ensure we delivered on our commitments. Regions achieved record-breaking attendance at meetings and programs and staff at headquarters worked incredible hours to meet deadlines, deliver products, design programs and support the State Control Centre.
I've been lucky to be part of a strong Executive Management Team that supported CFA during extremely challenging times, and I leave the organisation in comfort knowing it is in such good hands.
I'd also like to acknowledge the great work done by CFA Operations and thank the Deputy Chief Officers for their support. I have had great support from and fun with our firefighters, both career and volunteer, and I'll miss you all.
During my time at CFA I've come into contact with many communities across the state, throughout the community consultation around the 2009 Victorian Royal Bushfires Commission Final Report in particular, and it has reinforced to me that I was in the right job for the right reason. I thank the large number of people that have supported the Community Safety social media activities, many sharing my messages and information on a regular basis.
We've worked so hard to impart a high calibre of resilience to our communities, and not without pain, sadness, loss and grief. It was an honour to be part of an organisation stretched to its limit under the most immense scrutiny, and part of a strong team of brilliant people which has always had our communities' best interest in the bottoms of their hearts.
Now, why am I reflecting on these achievements? Because it's only through the amazing talent that I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from that I was positioned to take up my new role. I will soon be joining WorkSafe as ‘General Manager, Operations', to be an overarching, hands on, single point of accountability across field activities for Workplace Health and Safety.
It's a rare privilege to have been sought out to undertake such a significant role and my decision today is one I have not taken lightly. Over the last few weeks I will take the opportunity to say goodbye and thank you all personally and as the weeks unfold you'll learn more about the future direction of Community Safety and CFA overall, and let me say the future is very bright one for you all.
I'd like to thank all of you again for your hard work, commitment, patience and friendship that have made my role worthwhile and that I won't forget. Other people might not find this as inspiring as me, but I'd like to leave you on a short fable that got me through some of the tough times.
An old man is walking his dog along a beach that is covered with washed up starfish. He's surprised to find a young boy picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean.
"Why are you throwing those starfish back into the ocean?" asked the old man.
"It's obvious isn't it?" replied the boy. "If I don't throw them back into the ocean they will be dried out by the sun and die."
"But there's too many starfish to save - you can't possibly make a difference!?" said the man.
The boy picked up another starfish, holding it up to the old man before throwing it back into the ocean.
"I made a difference for that one."