Twelve years later she became CFA’s first female captain. “But then there were three female captains elected within six weeks,” says Sue, “so I wasn’t the only one for long.” (One of them was Dianne Simmons of Christmas Hills brigade.)
“I always had terrific support from the brigade,” she says, “and at the time it was just about electing the best person for the job. There were some mixed reactions in the wider community alongside all the positive cards and letters. The hype around it at the time was overwhelming but I was keen to promote the visibility of women already involved with CFA to other women who wanted to join a volunteer organisation and make a difference to the safety of their community.
“I’ve heard so many general positive comments over the years. Trainers have told me that women tend to approach things differently with a willingness to learn, to listen and be communicators. When women are in the mix they bring a range of perspectives and life experiences, especially to problem solving, opening up the possibilities of teamwork even further.”
Sue has held almost all brigade officer roles and was captain for six and a half years before stepping down to 1st lieutenant with that role ending in July this year. Husband Ian took over the captaincy from her but also stood down from that role in July as part of the brigade’s succession plan.
Both Sheldricks remain active brigade members with Sue now turning her volunteer energy towards community education and incident control centre roles. She is employed by SES as a community resilience coordinator; a role similar to a CFA community engagement coordinator.
“I’m across fire, floods and storms,” continues Sue, “so I call myself a double agent. I can share my passion to help communities build resilience to emergencies both at work and as a volunteer.”
Killawarra is a small rural brigade with the fire station the only community facility. “We’re working towards a new station that’s an all-of-community facility,” says Sue. “We do a lot in building community resilience and doorknock for new recruits. We got quite a few very strong new members after the 2009 fires. We’ve got quite a few women in our brigade now. I try to be a mentor to all new members without having an agenda. Lead by example has always been my personal philosophy.
“Male or female: everybody has something to contribute to CFA. It opens up everyone’s horizons. I wouldn’t still be with CFA if it hadn’t been an amazing experience with all the opportunities it brings.”
CFA now has 11,022 female volunteers, 851 female juniors and 695 female staff members.