Wome working in non traditional occupations firefighter

Rebel Talbert

Group Manager, Operational and Mitigation Support Services, NSW Rural Fire Service

After I finished high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. My parents suggested I enrol in a Business College to get some general skills that I could take to the workplace. After completing Business College I was successful for a role with Proctor and Gamble. Whilst I was working there I was involved in logistics, international freight and warehousing. I really enjoyed my job. However I came to a point in my career where I wanted to progress and I knew I needed a degree to do this. I thought about my interests and what I enjoyed doing and decided to enrol in Public Communications at UTS. Before commencing at UTS I went overseas and worked in London for six months.

I commenced at UTS as a mature age student. After completing my studies I was looking for a role that was meaningful, a role where I could give back to the community.

I was also (and continue to be) a volunteer fire fighter with the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS). My family have been involved in volunteer fire fighting for over thirty years. As a volunteer fire fighter I’ve had the opportunity to drive fire trucks, use chainsaws, wear breathing apparatus, I’ve had opportunities to travel, to fly in a helicopter. There are a vast range of skills I would have never developed and a range of experiences I would have never been exposed to, had I not joined as a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service.

Big fires also affected my suburb in 2002, after this I decided to join the RFS as an employee and I’ve never looked back. I commenced with the RFS through an internship as a media officer. I’ve worked on the media for many fires;  I managed to work my way up and get promoted to Manager of the Media Services Unit.

After being with the RFS for six years I felt I had achieved all I could in the media space. I believed there was potential to use the skills I had gained in my media role and my experience in volunteer fire fighting to add value to the organisation.

I applied for the role of Group Manager, Operational and Mitigation Support Services and was successful. In this role I’m responsible for state mitigation work crews, cutting control lines, asset protection zones, the Assist Infirm Disabled and Elderly Residents Program (AIDER) that prepares elderly resident’s homes for fire. I look after heavy plant contracts across the state, investigate hazard complaints and deploy staff to establish base camps during the fire season.

The people I work with are fantastic! Most of them come from a volunteering background, like me so we have a shared passion for serving the community. The people are selfless and focussed on getting the job done; they have a great work ethic. It’s been a very interesting time for the fire service. The fires on Black Saturday 2009 have reinvigorated fire services across Australia to focus on improving what we do. I recently came back from a six month secondment to the Victoria Fire Service where I worked for the Emergency Services Commissioner during the Royal Commission. I also chaired a national working group to streamline communications to the community during the fire season.

There are some challenges being a female in this industry. I find that the greatest challenge is dealing with people’s perceptions. I work hard to prove my skills and knowledge and to demonstrate that women can do exactly the same jobs as men. I do a lot of work with younger women to encourage them to consider specialised roles within the RFS. The work is so challenging and exciting and provides the opportunity to build so many skills for work and for life.

I think things have improved for women entering non-traditional occupations. There is still a cultural challenge as the fire service is a male dominated industry. It is also harder to attract women to specialised roles in the RFS as perceptions exist that the work is physically demanding and not suitable for women.

The RFS has a number of programs aimed at attracting volunteers. The Volunteer to Career program encourages volunteers to look at career options within the RFS and how they can apply for jobs.

There is still work to be done to encourage women to the operational side of the organisation but I think things have certainly come a long way.

Women working in non traditional occupations Firefighter


Women working in non traditional occupations Firefighter

Dawn is a Station officer for  Fire and Rescue NSW. She is at time of writing the second highest ranking operational female officer. The other officer holds the same rank but has been in the job 2 weeks longer. 
A Station officer commands 3 firefighters on a pumper. They are in command in the crucial first minutes of arriving at an incident. In those first few minutes she needs to make potentially life or death decisions based on a few seconds impression, with limited resources and the knowledge that backup may be a long time coming. 

It is a physically demanding job, using heavy tools and hoses while dressed in structural firefighting overpants and jacket. 

The hours can be intense, firefighters now mostly work on a 24hr shift, a firefighter needs to able to make decisions quickly,  literally seconds after waking up.

Fire and Rescue NSW, formerly NSW Fire Brigades has traditionally been a very male dominated workforce, with perceptions about the intense physical nature of the job and stories about  a masculine culture, however recruitment phase now includes infomation sessions to dispel some of those ideas.



To have a chat about how I can help you, use the form or give me a call 0409813910

For lighting inquiries please call Auscrew 94274444 to check availablity.

Womene in non traditional occupations firefighting