Port Campbell CFA brigade captain Katy Millard says she still gets funny looks from other drivers surprised to see a woman behind the wheel of a fire truck.
Ms Millard is the first female in the Port Campbell brigade's history to take on the top job.
The former police woman of 15 years joined the CFA in 2016. She became a member of the Timboon brigade and worked her way up to the role of captain, a position she held for a year before taking on the top job at Port Campbell in March.
She said having a woman in the role helped change public perceptions and the CFA had to be an organisation that reflected community expectations.
"It's about making it easier for future women coming through," Ms Millard said. "I drive the truck and I still get sideways looks but I don't think it hurts to have a woman in the seat of the truck because it normalises it. So for the next lot of women coming in it's acceptable for them to get in the jump seat.
"There were times I struggled to get in the seat because it was strange for a lot of men to think a woman could drive the fire truck. A lot of them would jump in the seat before me and I couldn't change that but I think people are getting used to having me around and seeing me do that."
She said she's learnt lots of valuable skills during her time with the CFA and enjoys being a first responder for incidents in her community.
During the pandemic, she continued to update her skills via online courses. She joined the CFA Women's Advisory Committee and she was also invited to join its Confident Leaders Program.
As part of the Victoria-wide advisory role, she's helped source a manufacturer which makes smaller gloves, particularly for female members, helped advocate for stations to have female change and toilet facilities, as well as including sanitary packs in each station and truck.
"With the women's advisory group I felt like I could have a voice and be heard and that things were being acted on."
This week is National Volunteer Week which helps to shine a light on the tireless people who give so much to our communities.
The Port Campbell CFA branch has 25 members, three of which are female and she's encouraging more women to volunteer.
"For me as captain everyone who walks in has something to offer," she said. "You don't have to go and hold a hose and fight fires because there's so many jobs you can be useful as doing."
In the south-west region, an area which covers from Colac to the South Australian border, there are five female captains and 1180 female members.
Ms Millard grew up in the south-west on her parent's farm near the 12 Apostles, before moving to the city in her late teens. She worked as a police officer for 15 years in Melbourne's western suburbs, completing a stint in the mounted branch and also worked for the assistant commissioner in traffic operations.
Ms Millard returned to Port Campbell in 1998 with husband Chris and the couple raised two daughters and a son, now aged 18, 23, and 19 respectively, on their dry stock farm.
Finding herself with more time on her hands as her children got older, Ms Millard became a member of the CFA in 2016 when a cycling buddy suggested she join.
"I live in a farming community and there's lots of women who are great farmers," Ms Millard said. "Farming is very aligned with operational CFA because you're driving big vehicles and thinking on your feet and working autonomously.
"I don't think people realise how transferable their skills are from what they're doing to the CFA. You can learn all the skills but there's a lot of people out there that probably don't realise how qualified they are."
Katy is also a judge on this year's Spirit of CFA Awards and says it's an absolute honour.
"I am so proud to be a judge for these awards. It's a privilege to be asked".
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