Vicky Hall is in her twenties, a mother of two young boys and an active member of Mt Riverview Rural Fire Brigade. And while she’s not the only woman in the brigade, Vicky would like to see lots more.
We asked her to give some background into what made her think of joining up, how she found the process and her experiences since she first put on her “yellows”.
“I wanted to join Mt Riverview RFS brigade because it is where I live,” she told us. “It is something that I have always wanted to do, but particularly after the Winmalee fires of 2013, which really made me think I should be doing something for my community.
“I could see the work that was put in by the community during those fires, especially by the RFS and I wanted to be part of that. Soon afterwards while I was walking my dog I saw a sign outside the fire station which said “Recruiting Now”. The timing was perfect and I decided to make the call.”
Initially Vicky spoke with brigade captain, Mark Collins, who provided some general information about what was involved in becoming a volunteer fire fighter and invited her to the station for a further discussion and interview.
“Mark explained the RFS isn’t just about fire-fighting and that members also get involved in other activities such as search and rescue and community engagement activities,” Vicky said. “The idea of a bit of variety also appealed to me.”
Vicky then attended an interview panel at the fire station where three members told her more about the RFS and asked about her reasons for wanting to join the brigade, what she hoped to get out the experience and whether she was open to the idea of undergoing training to develop specialist skills.
“After the interview I went away to read through the material I had been given.I took a week to think it over and decided this was definitely something I wanted to do,” she said.
The next steps involved administrative confirmation of Vicky’s suitability and the issue of a FireZone number to identify her as one of the RFS’s nearly 70,000 volunteers.
That was soon followed by the theory and practical training sessions which make up “BF” – the Bush Firefighting basic training course which all active volunteers go through when they join the RFS. The course covers an introduction to the gear which all brigades use and the drills which help keep volunteer crews safe and effective.
“I enjoyed the BF course, because it was conducted in my local area by Mt Riverview brigade and I got to train with the people I now go out on the tanker with,” she said. “The brigade really made it fun, but serious at the same time, and it really reinforced my feeling that this is something I want to do.
“It isn’t a ‘blokey’ organisation and everyone was really encouraging and welcoming, as they continue to be. I went through the BF course with another local woman and that also helped. My two boys were really stoked when I told them I was going to be a fire fighter and especially so when I started wearing the “yellows” which everyone recognises as the RFS uniform.
With three years brigade experience behind her, Vicky looks back and thinks her role as a fire fighter hasn’t been as physically demanding as she expected it might be. She has since gone on to complete a Working Safely on Roofs course, giving her the specialist skills to help communities recover when storm damage episodes see the RFS called upon to assist the NSW SES.
“Once again, everyone was really encouraging and nobody doubted my ability to successfully complete the course,” she said. “I enjoyed it and developed some new skills. In the future I would like to complete a chain saw operator’s course and maybe even a tanker driver’s course.”
So how demanding is RFS membership on Vicky’s time? “Not very demanding at all,” she says. “Obviously there are times when I can’t get there, but everyone in the brigade is in that position. As a volunteer you just give whatever time you have available. No one criticises you if you can’t attend a particular call.
“For any other women considering joining the brigade I can certainly recommend it. The process of becoming a volunteer and undergoing basic training couldn’t be made any easier. If anyone has any questions they can ring Mark Collins, our captain, on 0412 472 863 – or ask me.”