“I almost didn’t go”: VICSES volunteer champions gender equity

“I almost didn’t go”: VICSES volunteer champions gender equity

08/03/2023, 12:31 PM

VICSES volunteer Angela Lane at a road crash rescue training exercise, 2022

“Innovation for gender equity” is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day and we are not short of examples at the Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES).

Angela Lane, who received her 5-year service medal last year for her work as a VICSES volunteer, received a CEOs Award in February for creating the Women In Rescue event and, on Sunday, a National Emergency Medal for her work during the 2019 - 2020 bushfires. 

When Angela joined VICSES Sunbury as a volunteer, she had never picked up a chainsaw, or tied a complex knot. “I was never introduced to tools so I’m learning that from scratch, whereas someone who used them in their childhood would have that innate knowledge,” says Angela.

“So I was competing with a confidence issue,” she continues, "but the only way to get better is to risk stuffing up, find a way to fix it, and let that be okay.”

Outside of her work as a volunteer, Angela works as a Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Psychology teacher, assistant principal, and peer support leader for VICSES.

Angela created the Women In Rescue initiative in 2018, after she attended a Road Crash Rescue (RCR) forum in Geelong where she was the only woman at the event.

“I almost didn’t go,” says Angela, “it was meant to be a workshop for trainers, and I had just recently been accredited.”

"Being the only female wasn’t so bad,” laughs Angela, "especially as everyone else had to share a twin room; I got my own.”

The leadership team at the unit thought that Angela would bring a fresh perspective to training techniques, to allow a wider range of volunteers to use the hydraulic tools used for road, and to participate in this lifesaving work. “I picked up a lot useful tips on how to operate this equipment, for volunteers with different physical capabilities,” says Angela.

“The training weekend was great, and very inclusive, but I wanted to tip the balance back the other way so the women in my unit could have a similar experience,” says Angela.

This inspired Angela to set up a day for female volunteers, which offered specialised training techniques, and mentoring. The Women In Rescue initiative has since expanded to all parts of the state with last year's event running across multiple sites, helping to retain and recruit more female volunteers to the service.

“It’s about building relationships and confidence, but mostly it’s just fun to do,” says Angela. “You visit with other units, meet your peers, and have fun while learning you can do something you didn’t know you could, or to build on your skills.”

Women In Rescue is for the volunteers, and run by the volunteers and it’s not just for women. “Male trainers and assessors can teach a wider range of techniques and be involved with a large-scale training event, so this is a great opportunity.”

Angela’s practical approach to addressing gender equity is one example of how VICSES is building a more diverse workforce to meet challenges in 2023. 

As our volunteers prepare their communities for adversity, and respond to emergencies, they should feel welcome everywhere they are and represent the communities they serve.

To read other volunteer profiles for International Women's Day, click here.