Each fire season Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) recruits and trains more than 550 project firefighters (PFFs).
These seasonal firefighters complement FFMVic’s permanent firefighting staff and will respond to bushfire and undertake prevention activities including planned burning.
Committed to the Self Determination of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, FFMVic offers several Designated Aboriginal Positions (DAPs) as part of its PFF recruitment each year.
Stephanie Carter, based at FFMVic’s Mildura depot is just one of FFMVic’s DAP PFFs.
Stephanie, a proud Kureinji woman, had always wanted to work on Country, so when she found out through family that FFMVic was recruiting PFFs, she jumped at the chance to apply.
‘Working on Country has always been my goal,’ Stephanie said.
‘Having a career where I can do that and help protect the land from wildfire while conserving the land is a bonus.
‘It’s a very rewarding career.’
Before becoming a PFF, Stephanie had worked across a broad range of industries from civil construction to hospitality.
‘I spent the last 5 years in Brisbane working in hospitality,’ Stephanie said.
‘When I returned home to my roots, I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t fall back into hospitality, working away my nights and weekends.
‘It takes away from quality time.
‘I wanted a career that was food for my soul while having a balance that allowed me to grow and explore the beautiful land we live on.’
Stephanie also loves that being a PFF is full of adrenaline and adventure
‘You never miss a sunrise or sunset,’ she said.
‘Chasing a career with endless growth is where my heart and soul is happy.’
When asked what she had enjoyed the most being a PFF Stephanie responded quickly:
‘Every day is different,’ she said.
‘You meet new people and do a wide range of things.
‘If I had to pick just one thing I’d say the training, the tools and knowledge I’ve gained is life changing.’
On the job
Stephanie found the training very informative.
‘The trainers are experienced but grounded,’ she said.
‘And most of them started their careers being PFFs so they understood how we were feeling and what we needed to succeed.’
PFFs receive all the training they need to fulfil their role. From completing the general firefighters training held at the beginning of their employment to specialist training like advanced first aid, dangerous goods truck licence, plant tickets for dozers, graders, and tractors, heavy rigid truck licences, and hazard tree assessor and hot refueler training - there are always opportunities to increase their skills.
All FFMVic staff, including PFFs are on call to help with a wide range of emergencies that occur in Victoria throughout the year, not just bushfires.
As soon as PFF training camp finished last year, Stephanie was deployed to help with the Victorian flood relief effort, helping to fill sandbags and building levies to protect communities and critical roads and infrastructure.
Once the impact of floods eased, Stephanie and her fellow crew members from the Mildura depot turned their focus to their core job of bushfire prevention activities and fighting fires.
One bushfire Stephanie was called out on was a roadside fire at Nowingi.
Her role was plant operator support for the compact track loaders.
Driving to the fire she didn’t know what to expect.
‘I was feeling a mixture of nerves, adrenaline, and excitement,’ Stephanie said.
‘I’d spent a lot of time at PFF camp training for this exact moment, to say I was eager was an understatement.
‘Once the fire was under control, the crew used the compact track loaders to create a control line around it and blacked out any smouldering fuels with the aid of rakehoes, axes and water.’
When not being called out to fight fires, there's a lot of preparedness and readiness work to be done.
‘I assisted with slashing and mulching to reduce fuel loads in the State forest,” Stephanie said.
‘Plant conservation is important, so we focused on making sure we create corridors for birds and other wildlife passing through.
‘I also helped with campground checks to make sure they were well maintained for visitors to use.’
Caring for Country
As an Indigenous person, Stephanie said caring for Country was something that sat close to her heart.
‘It is fundamental,’ she said.
‘It is important to keep the land and facilities healthy and clean, while making sure sacred land is preserved for current and future generations.’
‘It is good to be working closely with Traditional Owners and local communities.’
For those who are thinking of applying for either a DAP or general PFF role for the next fire season, Stephanie recommends not holding back.
‘Go for it!’ she said.
‘It is an opportunity to protect our land and water ways and preserve the environment.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
‘You gain skills that you’ll use throughout your whole life.
‘Working at FFMVic you are encouraged and supported through a healthy work environment.
‘I’m honoured to be part of FFMVic and look forward to expanding my career and gaining knowledge about all things fire and Country.’
Find out more about becoming a Project Firefighter, check out the Firefighter and Employment page.
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