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All Female Crew at the Hall Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade

25 July 2023

From ACT Government Our CBR Newsletter:

The summer holidays might be a time where many Canberrans slow down, but for our firefighters, it's their busiest time of year.

For volunteer firefighter Michelle Michie, the most important thing on any summer to-do list should be preparing a bushfire plan.

"It's important to take the time with your household to discuss and prepare or update your Survival Plan," she said.

"Often people in Canberra can get blasé because they're in the city so don't need to worry, so they think it doesn't really involve them or they don't need to be as prepared. But the embers from fires can affect people in the suburbs, and grass fires often develop quickly, so you've always got to be prepared and aware of the conditions and fire danger ratings."

Michelle, who has been a volunteer firefighter for over 20 years, is part of an all-female crew at the Hall Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade.

"When I first started there was only one other woman here, now there is an all-female crew which is great to see," she said.

The crew ranges in age and experience, from long-running members like Michelle to 26-year-old newcomer Belinda Brooker, who joined in April this year.

With family members in the NSW Rural Fire Service, firefighting is in Belinda's bloodline.

"I really wanted to help the community, and I thought this was the best way to do it," she said.

"Everyone has been so supportive, it's like being amongst family."

The crew juggle their volunteer roles with full-time jobs or study, responding to incidents whenever they can attend.

"It helps to have a supportive employer, because sometimes you'll get a notification about a fire where you only have a couple hours' notice to attend," said Michelle, who is a lab technician at the CSIRO.

Psychology student Katie Tabke had only been at the Hall Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade for a year when the 2019/20 bushfires ravaged many parts of Australia. She was called to help fight intense blazes near Braidwood and Kosciusko.

"It was a huge experience, as it was only my second season," Katie said.

"For me the best thing about this crew is the relationship you build. It's always great to be surrounded by strong, empowered women. I hope more women can join and the day an all-women's crew is not a rare thing, then that will be a good day."

Allison Bartlett, who is still undertaking her firefighter's course while also working at the Australian War Memorial, agrees it's a "very motivating" team atmosphere.

"Although we're volunteers, we're provided with all these avenues we can pursue – whether it's assisting with set up or learning about how to get winched out of a helicopter," she said.

"I think in everyday circles you get accustomed to men's confidence with heavy equipment or tools, but then you join a group like this where you're certainly not encouraged to stand on the sidelines, they want people who know what to do regardless of their gender."

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