This International Women’s Day, we catch up with District 7’s four female brigade captains.
When CFA firefighter Kaylene Stocks gets paged to an emergency, her son Kayden recognises the signal and heads straight for the door.
“He knows the difference between a fire call and a regular message and gets ready to go so I can drop him at his grandparents and respond to the incident,” Kaylene laughs.
Just like Kaylene, Kaydan has grown up around CFA after his mum and older sister followed in his grandfather’s steps about seven years ago. Kaylene’s sister and brother-in-law are also members.
“It’s great – sometimes we’re three generations on the same truck,” Kaylene says of volunteering alongside her daughter and father.
“I always wanted to join, but I was quite big so I made it my goal to join once I had lost weight.”
Dropping 52 kilos, she tackled operational duties head on, qualifying to become a firefighter and taking on roles such as Community Safety Officer and 4th Lieutenant.
Recently, she became one of four female brigade captains in CFA’s District 7, spanning from Geelong to Lorne
“It’s a real honour and I’m happy to bring a new element and make sure the brigade meets the new standards as CFA is always evolving,” she says.
“We all like to turn out but as a leader, we have to make sure we all have the skillset so we all come home safe.”
More women have joined the brigade since she first started, which is welcome as many are available during daytime hours that some other members may not be.
“The longer-serving members treat us no different and that is all I ask. That’s the great thing, we look at skillset and not if someone’s male or female.
“At last year’s Mt Mercer fire, Dad drove the truck and I was the crew leader of an all-female crew and we did it, we were there all day working on that fire just like everyone else.”
Highton CFA’s new captain Ali Jordan, who was elected Highton’s first female captain late last year, also has firefighting in her blood but says she still has much to learn and is looking forward to working with a great brigade management team.
“I grew up in the brigade as my dad has been a member for 30 years and is also an ex-captain,” she says.
Beginning her formal CFA journey as a junior with Belmont fire brigade, Ali joined Highton as an operational member at 16.
In her 16 years with CFA, she’s held the roles of Secretary, brigade Communications Officer and 1st Lieutenant and was recently elected the brigade’s first female Captain and is also Deputy Group Officer for Geelong group and Geelong group Communications Officer.
“I certainly didn’t think I’d be the brigade’s first female captain, but it’s such an honour and I hope I can be a role model to other females in leadership roles,” she says.
“I feel really privileged and excited to be leading the Brigade with a great BMT behind me. I’m really looking forward to all the challenges and opportunities that come with the role. I’m sure there will be a lot to learn!”
Barwon Heads captain Helen Wood, who has worn the captain’s helmet a bit longer with her five years at the helm of her brigade, said that Ali’s attitude was exactly the right one as she embarks on her journey.
“You have to be prepared for a lot of work and having done a lot of the other roles in the brigade helps enormously as it gives you an understanding of what CFA needs from the brigade,” she said.
“I usually say only 3-5 per cent is wearing the red hat and turning out to jobs; the majority of a captain’s work is really admin. But you’re also the face of the brigade and it’s nice to be recognised in the community in that role.”
Helen credits her leadership journey to the positive experience as a volunteer, first with the Barwon Heads Surf Life Saving Club and then with CFA.
“There had been female members before my time, but when I joined CFA I was the only female volunteer at my brigade,” she said.
“It hasn’t always been easy, but you have to believe in yourself and your abilities,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Niki Habibis, who has not only volunteered with St Leonards-Indented Head fire brigade for the past 26 years, but who also works for CFA in the role of Project Manager, Volunteer Recruitment and Retention based out of CFA Headquarters..
As a Captain for the past 16 years, Niki has paved the way for more recent female captains both in District 7 and CFA-wide.
“I never thought I’d become captain, and when I did I didn’t think it’d be for this long,” she laughs. “I just joined because I was new to the community and wanted to meet people.”
She credits her longevity as captain to her brigade.
“We’re quite a close-knit brigade, we’re social and support each other,” she said.
“I’d like to think it’s a collaborative approach and everyone has a role. My role is to bring the brigade together and to stand up for the brigade and be their voice. Bringing people together and creating a culture that is inclusive.”