Born and raised on the coffs Coast, Aliesha ragen has gone on to become the first female FIRE fighter on the gold coast. at only 25 years of age, she’s already been in the job for 5 years and is going from strength to strength. despite the challenges of her role, she has forged greater acceptance of women in the fire brigade.
You grew up in Coffs. Do you get home often, and what do you love about the area?
I was born and bred in Coffs and grew up at Moonee Beach. I completed primary school at Korora and high school at John Paul College. I get home quite a bit, as I still have family and friends living in Coffs, and I miss living there.
I love the beaches and atmosphere and I know when I walk down the street I will meet up with someone I know. Coffs will always hold a special place in my heart; it’s one of the few places I know where you are surrounded by amazing surf beaches, rainforest, waterfalls, and mountains all within a short drive.
> Why did you want to be a firefighter?
I had just finished a Diploma in Sports Management at uni in Tweed Heads and had returned home for a few weeks.
I was watching a TV documentary about fire fighters, where a female firefighter was being interviewed. At the time I had not thought of this as a career choice and didn’t know girls could apply. After seeing the interview, I knew it’s what I wanted to do.
I then spent the next year completing necessary entry requirements to qualify for an interview.
> Where did you do your training, and what did it involve?
Before being selected for an interview, I needed to obtain a truck licence and first aid and advanced resuscitation certificate. I then needed to pass a mathematics test, a mechanics exam, English exam, aptitude test and a physical and beep test. I then had a panel interview as the final part of entry. Two thousand people applied, and only 26 were selected, so I feel very fortunate. After being accepted, I attended an intense 4 month live in training course in Brisbane.
The training was very physical and demanding, learning the skills needed to be a firefighter. I experienced many aspects of the job through this training, including cutting up cars and light containers of furniture on fire, as well as dealing with truck fires and fuel fires.
> You were the first female firefighter on the Gold Coast. What’s it like working in such a male dominated role?
It was extremely daunting turning up for my first day on shift at 20-years-old in a fully male dominated job. At first, my fellow male firefighters were not very welcoming and found it difficult to accept a female in the role. I spent the first few weeks being ignored and told I shouldn’t be there. It was difficult; however, I was determined to prove myself and show them that I was there to work hard and that I was a firefighter regardless of my gender! After being involved in rescue with several house fires and car accidents, where I had the opportunity to prove myself, I started to gain respect from my fellow male counterparts.
Now 5 years down the track, I have many friends in the job, and they have come to realise that females can not only do the job well, but can also bring a different dimension to the team. There are now over 20 female firefighters in the Queensland Fire Brigade and attitudes have changed, with females being more accepted as part of the team.
> What influence do you think women have in your industry?
Although women will never have the physical strength of men, I feel they bring a different perspective and balance to the job. When we are out in the community and on jobs, there are many positive comments regarding the involvement of women in the fire service.
We certainly have a positive effect on school children and influence the way students view the fire service after meeting a female firefighter. Female firefighters also influence the way fire stations are organised, and over time will become a bigger part of management, having a positive influence on the organisational structure.
> Describe your typical day.
Every day is completely different, and that’s what I love about my job … so I can’t really describe a typical day. We might have school fire education visits, high rise inspections, or safe homes information for the elderly booked in, but at any time we can get called out to a job. The majority of calls are either high rise false alarms, car accidents, car fires, house fires, chemicals spills and assisting the police and ambulance … and yes, I have saved cats from trees and ducks from drains!
> What’s the most memorable/inspirational experience you’ve had on the job?
The most memorable is probably my first house fire. I have had quite a few since then, but the adrenaline and excitement is something I will always remember.
It is also a great feeling to be able to save someone who is trapped in a car. At times it becomes a situation when you have to cut the car away and safely remove them from the vehicle into the hands of the ambulance.
> What is most challenging in your work?
Physically one of the toughest things would be wearing full turnout gear in the middle of summer when attending large grass fires for hours at a time; it can be extremely hot and uncomfortable.
Continuous study can also be tough. Presently I am studying to be a senior firefighter. After 4 years of study, it does get difficult at times and becomes more in-depth each year.
> Tell us about the firefighters calender …
I was asked to be a part of the first female firefighters calendar last year. The calendar raised money for breast cancer, and we were very pleased to successfully raise over $50,000. It was an interesting experience, but also hard work, as we were required to attend different venues to sell the calendar through the year.
> Would you encourage people to get involved with and volunteer for their local firefighting service?
It would be impossible for the community to be protected without the efforts of all the fire services. Each service complements the other services. Rural Fire Services are the backbone of rural areas, and without volunteers, these services would not exist or be effective in protecting life and property.
In country towns like Coffs Harbour, where there is only one fire station, it is essential that you have Rural Fire Brigades and volunteer firefighters, especially in grass fire season.
If you asked any firefighter about their job, regardless of the fire service they belong to, I am sure they would tell you how rewarding and fulfilling they find their work.
> Thank you Aliesha.