THE CFA is encouraging women to join local brigades and pursue opportunities to excel in their careers.

CFA District 9 comprises of three groups, incorporating South Gippsland, Strzelecki and Baw Baw areas.

District 9 has a total of 43 brigades, including a headquarters and coast guard brigade.

Emma Conway, Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer and District 9 Commander has been involved with the CFA since 2007 as Leading Firefighter, Operations Officer and now Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer.

Throughout her years with the CFA, Emma was the 13th female career firefighter the CFA employed, and she has always felt supported and part of a family.

“It’s not unusual for me to walk into a room and be the only female, and I feel like I’m walking into a room full of my brothers and my uncles.”

The number of women participating in District 9 volunteer brigades has risen from 364 in 2017 to 401 in 2020.

“We haven’t seen a specific drop or a specific impact to women’s recruitment over [the] last year because of COVID,” said Emma.

District 9 is seeing a slight rise in the number of women being elected to operational leadership roles and hopes to see more through the participation of women in various development programs that the district and wider CFA have provided.

Current programs available to CFA women in District 9 include:

• Women’s Network Group.

• EVGP Grant: Cert IV in Leadership, with four women currently completing.

• EVGP Grant: Trainer and Assessor, with two women undertaking the course completely funded.

• EVGP Grant: Igniting Women’s Leadership, an intensive leadership camp for women with guest speakers, activities and programs to give confidence in their leadership abilities.

Programs available to all female CFA members, not limited to District 9, includes an Annual Women’s Burn Program at Cape Clear, online workshops on leadership, training modules online, Professional Organisational Development programs, emergency hygiene packs and a CO/CEO Advisory Group for women.

CFA volunteer and South Gippsland dairy farmer Janet Auchterlonie was the first woman to join the CFA Dumbalk brigade in the 1980s.

She said her brigade was a supportive and inviting environment for all members, both men and women.

“I’ve never gone looking for support. At brigade level in the Dumbalk community, we work as a team and we’re supportive of one another and gender doesn’t come into it.”

The CFA tailors work around women and give young mothers equal opportunities and support where needed.

“The uniqueness of CFA is that we’re a snapshot of the community and always have been. CFA’s history is a bunch of community members coming together to support each other in times of emergency. So, all our structures and systems still resonate around that community and family support foundation that then filters up into everything else we do,” Emma said.

CFA is committed to ensuring brigades are inclusive and supportive of all members and their communities.

It is the diversity of membership and reflecting the diversity of communities, which allows CFA to keep communities safe.