“The transition was challenging and I really admire the time and commitment [ex-captain] Rick Shaw put in,” says Captain Fiona Burns who took over this year after 10 years in CFA. “I feel really fortunate to be captain at a time like this and honoured to be appointed the first female captain in Yarra Valley Group.
“I wanted the job because I do feel I have something to offer the brigade. I hope I can achieve six years in the role. That would be two years to bring in changes, two years to consolidate and two years for succession planning.
“We’ve started a mentor program for recruits and we’ll extend it to members interested in leadership roles as part of the brigade’s succession planning. You can’t put a value on the experience of members and we don’t want those members just walking out the door with all their expertise and no formal way of passing it on.”
Hillcrest brigade has 48 members, 38 of whom are operational with 40 per cent female. It’s a diverse group ranging from lawyers, tradies and childcare workers to boat builders, engineers and two Year 12 students. Members attend an average of 160 incidents a year. There are 28 Juniors – 25 of them girls – across the Yarra Valley Group.
“Fifteen of our members are new to CFA,” says Fiona, “so we’re growing our membership with some people prepared to help with fundraising, paperwork or station maintenance. We’re also really keen to support members in community engagement roles. We’ve got a good membership with people creating the time and space to volunteer.”
A plan for new training facilities at Hillcrest Fire Station – paid for by the brigade – will benefit all members of the group. The emphasis is on building the brigade and Yarra Valley Group by creating training opportunities and bolstering teamwork.
Hillcrest brigade is also one of the Yarra Valley Emergency Services (YVES) that has committed as a united team to educate our young drivers/passengers to change their behavior to reduce the risks and incidents of road trauma. Read about August's well-attended Teenage Road Information Program (TRIP) session.
Fiona is a lawyer by trade which means she’s a crack negotiator. She has been employed by CFA since 2009 working on Yarra Valley recovery and is now Fire Prevention Team Leader.
The range of experiences has given her insight into the qualities of an effective leader. “Be consistent in decision making,” she says. “Respect for every member; fairness in the way we treat all our members. You have to support the officers, look after the welfare of everyone in the brigade as well as look forward to where you want the brigade to go.
“I’ve learned a whole heap of skills. I joined CFA because I wanted to give something back to the community and meet people when I was running my own business and I’m better off for the experience. I went to the fires on the outskirts of Perth as a planning officer, I’ve been deputy group officer, crew leader, strike team leader and a Level 3 planning officer in the State Control Centre.
“It’s great to see more women taking leadership roles across CFA. For younger women, I’d say look for opportunities to develop your skills. It’s all about self-improvement. Don’t ever be afraid to give it a go. There are really good people around to support you.
“Women do things differently on the fireground but we still get the same outcome. It’s not wrong; it’s just different.
“Responding in an emergency takes you into an intimate part of someone’s life. The compassion and professionalism you show makes all the difference. We really pride ourselves on that. As a brigade we’ve got a really bright future and that’s not about trucks and stations – it’s about people.”