• IFARES graduates with TAFE NSW and FRNSW representatives at the Waterview, Bicentennial Park. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
A collaboration between Fire Rescue NSW and TAFE prepares Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with skills and training to apply to become firefighters.
Laura Morelli

4 Dec 2017 - 4:13 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2017 - 4:16 PM

They're fit, fast and ready to become firefighters, and after months of intense training for the Indigenous Fire & Rescue Employment Strategy (IFARES) program, 26 students have successfully graduated.  

The program saw participants of varied ages attain a TAFE NSW Certificate IV in Fitness, leaving graduates like Kathleen Daly with great ambitions to pursue a career in firefighting. 

"It's really made me want to give back to the community and become a positive role model, especially for our young women."

"Indigenous people need more academic and work-based role models, not just one gender and not just sport based."

There are more than 35 Indigenous firefighters currently working in NSW, but out of all of them, Kathleen only knows four who are women. 

"There are a lot of Indigenous male role models in my community of La Perouse, but not a lot of female ones, so I wanted to break those boundaries," she said.

"Indigenous people need more academic and work-based role models, not just one gender and not just sport based. Then we can all strive to achieve more." 

Experimenting with firefighting equipment, using the breathing apparatus and HAZMAT gear, practicing urban search and rescue methods, as well as fire investigation and building fire safety, were just some of challenges Kathleen faced.

"We were pushed to our limits and outside our comfort zone with experiments such as the low visibility test where you have to find objects scattered around with little vision, or the breathing apparatus which was challenging for Claustrophobic." 

"They develop skills in teamwork, collaboration, resilience and develop supportive networks that will carry them through life."

But for the 28-year-old, who usually works in Justice Health, the most difficult thing was balancing her role as a student and mother of two. 

"It's funny because in terms of fitness and training the program wasn’t difficult - but being a single mother of two children aged 5 and 7 was very challenging!" 

FRNSW Deputy Commissioner, Graeme Finney said the organisation is committed to ensuring the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Thousands of people apply to be firefighters every year and the information and experience these graduates have gained will help them with the application process,” he said.

“Completing the course doesn’t guarantee a position, but it has given graduates a unique insight into the job and the process.”

TAFE NSW Regional General Manager, Madelinka Sulic said TAFE NSW is proud to support this program now in its fourth year.

“The program has positive impacts for individuals, their families and the community. They develop skills in teamwork, collaboration, resilience and develop supportive networks that will carry them through life, putting them in great stead for a career with the Fire Service,” Madelinka explained.

“The program is helping to give Aboriginal people, who want a career in FRNSW an incredible insight into how to achieve that ambition.” 

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