I’ve been speaking to the female firefighters and am knocked out by who they are. There’s one woman I want to tell you about in particular. She’s the daughter of the woman in her 70s who’s an active firefighter. She’s a firefighter herself, and her daughter has been one too.
I can’t tell you all I want to say because I haven’t gotten her permission to use her story here. However, I can share a few general details and tell you of her impact on me which is as good an indicator of who she is as any other indicator, and quite possibly, the best indicator.
She’s a woman in her early 40s. She has four children, one of whom has a severe disability, and is a single parent. When she’s not volunteering her services to the Country Fire Authority (CFA), she’s her son’s full-time carer and studying for a degree. She’s a funny, brilliant, quick-as-a-flash human being who has volunteered for CFA for 13 years (“When I first went along I thought I could help them out with their bookwork because most community organisations struggle with that; I thought “Yeh, that’s a good commitment; then I got to squirt the fire hose and that was it; I was hooked.”)
Throughout our conversation, she says several times how “lucky” she is, and is completely exuberant and self-expressed. She talks about the fun she has, the joy she has found in community engagement work (“we are the community … we are the brigade, not the fire truck or the building, it’s us”), how “no-one tells you about the black boogies you get when firefighting”, and the importance of a sense of humour.
When I hang up the phone I go to my café to get a coffee, and where normally I say hello to the Manager and sit down and pretty much shut up, this time, he was not getting away. I had to tell someone about this extraordinary person I’d just spoken to. So I collared him and told him about her, and then he got excited and inspired. If ever there was an example of the quote I posted a little while ago – “When you interact with someone, are you going to inspire them, move them, or are you going to leave them more dead?” – she’s it. I’ve spent the rest of the day wanting to pick up the phone to talk to her again.
There was so much in what she discussed, and most won’t make its way into the final article because of space constraints. One part of what she shared related to training adults, which she does as part of her community engagement work. I thought you might be interested in what I got for myself in this area from talking to her.
When she’s training adults, she doesn’t tell them, she shows them. She says, “Come and see for yourself.” For example, she sees she has a role in promoting the CFA website where warnings and evacuation messages are posted. Instead of simply referring to the website, she brings a laptop and sets it up and then invites people over to the desk to interact with the website.
When she’s training adults, she doesn’t tell them, she lets them work it out for themselves. She tells them, for example, “See, in this area, in the event of fire, we have just one fire truck, and there are x houses, so you can do the maths.” She says something like this, and lets them draw their own conclusions. She follows up the point by saying something like, “Of course, that means the more you can look out for yourselves and be prepared, the more you can help”.
When she’s training adults, she doesn’t tell them what they should or shouldn’t do; she shares her own experience.
Lots of people ask me about my fire preparations and what I do at home, and I tell them about the folder we have by the door which contains our photos, a backup hard drive, a photocopied list of “all the numbers in our world” …
What a woman!
Image: Cooper and Merlot, the first two young kangaroos brought to Stella Reid’s re-established wildlife sanctuary in St. Andrews in October, 2009; Stella and her husband’s home and wildlife sanctuary were destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires in February, 2009.