NSW Fire And Rescue: Serving Our Communities
When your workplace’s motto is to be prepared for anything, there’s never a dull moment, nor is any day the same.
In a chat with Star Observer, Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Capability for Fire and Rescue NSW, Megan Stiffler shared what drives her to serve the community, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and the importance of diversity at Fire and Rescue.
Ready When The Call Comes
As Deputy Commissioner of Strategic Capability, Stiffler runs a division of around 450 people responsible for developing and managing operational capabilities. This includes education, training, properties, fleet, and operational capability.
In other words, “We make sure that a firefighter can get out the door when the call comes in,” she explained.
‘Set About My Passion For Community Service’
In 2004, Stiffler was the site manager for a large insurance company. Then the Boxing Day tsunami devastated Aceh on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, killing more than 170,000 people.
“I was a state manager for an insurance company, and I could not offer any help to the world in a time of need. It set about my passion for community service. I wanted to help community in times of disaster, and firefighting was a really good fit for me.”
Seven years later, in 2011, Stiffler was deployed to Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake.
“I flew into Christchurch after the earthquake with a brand new set of skills, helping community in their time of need,” she shared.
“To be flown into Christchurch, 24 hours after the earthquake, in the back of a C-17, with 72 other people… I really took a moment and thought, ‘Wow, I have come full circle within seven years, and I now have a skill set that matters’.”
Started In The Queensland Fire Service
Stiffler started her firefighting career in the Queensland Fire Service before joining Fire and Rescue NSW two years ago. At the time, she was the 20th woman to join the Queensland Fire Service.
She explained, “While our numbers were small back then, the firefighting fraternity is really about people being competent in their role. So if you’re a competent firefighter, you’re well respected because everyone can rely on you.
She continued, “My focus was not on gender but to focus on how can I be the best at my trade and contribute to my team, and I think when you focus like that, teams bond and you find commonalities.”
‘I Danced The Whole Way’
For LGBTQI firefighters in Fire and Rescue NSW, another way to find commonalities is the Fire and Rescue Inclusion Network for LGBTQIA+ Employees (FRINGE). FRINGE is a committee made up of firefighters who identify as LGBTQI.
One of the biggest roles of FRINGE is to support the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras each year. Sydney WorldPride 2023 saw the debut of the Pride Truck, an “overhauled urban pumper” wrapped in rainbow and Queer joy.
In 2023, Stiffler had her Mardi Gras debut as well, when she marched for the first time.
“I think I danced the whole way,” she said.
“I’ve been on the other side of the barriers and I’ve loved Mardi Gras, but it was so joyous this year – it was the energy – people were like six to 10 people deep and I’ve never been in such an amazing atmosphere, and to think we had 60 of our people there, enjoying it as well, was really fabulous.”
Recruitment Opens In June
For those wishing to join, every June, Fire and Rescue NSW opens up their recruitment. Between 6,000 and 8,000 people apply every year.
“We are an inclusive organisation that welcomes diversity,” Stiffler explained.
“Diversity is important as it brings diversity of thought into an organisation. People who bring different perspectives mean that we make better policy decisions.”
She shared that Fire and Rescue NSW is “Ramping up intakes over the next few years. So we normally only take about 100 people a year. And we’ll be looking at doubling that over the next few years.”
As a career, Stiffler explained, it “gives back tenfold to what you put in.”
“We’ve got such an amazing range of career options. We do anything from really high-level rescue – We cut people out of car crashes, we carry people out of floods, we apply first aid while people are waiting for paramedics to arrive, we deploy overseas – we’ve just recently returned from Turkey after the earthquake.
“Once you become a firefighter, there are so many career options. Once you’re in, you can have such a rich career.”