Our regional communities are built on the back of selfless acts, volunteering and neighbourly spirit. Lending a hand in times of need is ingrained in the Australian way of life and embodied by the people of the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

The CFA is just one of many emergency services and organisations that relies on the contributions of volunteers. This National Volunteer Week, we recognise everyone who selflessly gives their time for the betterment of our society.

Just under one million Victorians are involved in formal volunteering, and one in every twenty of these is a CFA member. CFA is the largest volunteer emergency service in Victoria with more than 54,000 volunteer members. If we all came together, we wouldn’t fit in Marvel Stadium. It is a humbling statistic that inspires and motivates me every day.

Our people come from all walks of life and backgrounds. They are your local baker, plumber, vet, lawyer, teacher, accountant. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things because they care for their communities. And behind every volunteer is a family, friends or employer who have also made sacrifices to support them in their role.

Immediately following the devastating 2019/20 fires, Victorians were plunged into a year of lockdowns where isolation and loneliness loomed as large as the pandemic itself. Throughout this time, the CFA was an important network for its members who continued to adapt, connecting and training online and delivering important community safety sessions remotely. And they kept turning out, responding to emergencies and serving their communities.

In 2021, we are emerging into a new world. The way we live and work has changed, and we are seeing a new trend of people moving from the city into regional towns. The CFA is excited to benefit from this migration as tree and sea changers look to connect with their new communities. The CFA and other local organisations offer an immediate network to meet new people, learn new skills and explore a local area.

The CFA has changed and grown over its 76–year history, and we offer roles so much more diverse than the incident management and frontline firefighting we are known for. We have medical professionals who run our health monitoring and rehabilitation vehicles at major incidents. We have community education officers who visit homes to provide fire safety advice, run sessions to help people prepare fire plans and deliver school-based fire safety programs. We have communications officers, fundraisers, logistical support members—all of whom are crucial to keeping our brigades running. In fact the majority of our volunteers perform nontraditional roles, offering crucial support and services to brigades and communities.

We are proud to be a highly skilled, well-trained organisation which values the expertise our members bring from their daily lives. In return, we offer them new skills and qualifications they will have forever.

That’s not to say we don’t have our challenges. Our people are from the community and our organisation faces the same issues that society grapples with. If people are giving up their time to volunteer with us, it’s our basic duty to provide them with a safe and enjoyable work environment. Much work has been done, and will continue to be done in the CFA and across the emergency services to improve physical safety and mental health, and to stamp out bullying, harassment and behaviours not in line with community standards.

We want to reflect the community we serve and we are taking significant steps to increase our gender, age, cultural and other diversity. We have seen a 40% increase of women in operational leadership roles in the past five years. I am yet to find a CFA role which couldn’t be undertaken by a woman and we actively welcome and encourage women to be part of our organisation.

We are investing heavily in ensuring our members have the equipment, vehicles and modernised training they need to undertake their roles to the best of their abilities. We’re also looking at how we can make volunteering more flexible and accessible to more people. Getting the balance between the needs of our busy lives with the intrinsic benefits of volunteering.

I was a volunteer firefighter myself so I have an appreciation of what it means to contribute to a community. Since commencing as the CFA Chief Officer last year, I have visited all 21 districts of the CFA, travelling 6,500 kilometres and meeting more than 1,500 volunteers and staff. I have been listening closely to all the things they love about the CFA, and the areas in which we can improve. But one thing is consistent amongst our volunteers, and indeed the volunteers in any organisation: they sign up to give something back to their community and do not seek praise and recognition. But this week, and every week, we thank them for their dedication and commitment.

Jason Heffernan
Chief Officer
Country Fire Authority