She’s just JJ. No longer Julie-Jane, the public school, pony-club girl, but JJ the Country Fire Authority brigade fire fighter and professional fire educator.

Ms JJ Edmondson was one of the CFA staff on duty when a two kilometre wide bushfire tore through some 3000 hectares of the Trentham region last weekend.

“Marketing and hype specialists haven’t arrived in the firefighting business, because if they had, JJ Edmondson would be an international star by now,” Age reporter Gary Linnell wrote at the time.

He was right. Once the flames were out, it took from Tuesday morning to Thursday afternoon to get through the thickets of CFA bureaucracy to interview JJ. She was not allowed to talk about WOPER, the CFA’s acronym for a bushfire research and operational unit.

JJ, now 30, rolled up to the Clyde-Cardinia brigade fresh out of school at age 18 as the first female volunteer. There was no turning back after that.

Once the male preserve of a certain type of man, the CFA has now opened up to women, at least in its lower to middle ranks. But on the evidence of its overwhelmingly male upper echelons, it may still have a glass ceiling. JJ will test it out in time.

With a science degree and five years teaching experience, she joined the CFA full-time to co-ordinate its role in the scheme known colloquially as “Jeff’s cadets”. More than 300 students in 13 schools from Corryong to Swift’s Creek and Melbourne are doing a two-year training program in fire management.

But JJ has become so enmeshed in CFA activities that she devotes most of her spare time to it, representing it on committees in the emergency services area.

And she’s recently been nominated to stand for an officer’s position in her brigade, where she is active in attending all the local fires in the north Westernport region, as well as fighting bushfires.

When she went backpacking through Europe, she dropped in on fire stations everywhere. In Sweden, where its all professional, they were fascinated by the notion of a female volunteer fire fighter.

Back home, she lives with her father on a property at Clyde.

Halfway through the interview, her pager went off. It was the 5pm weather forecast for Friday, relayed from headquarters so firefighters can work out whether they might be needed.

The forecast said 23°C and fine. As far as JJ is concerned, that’s like life in the CFA. Beautiful one day. Perfect the next.


Source: The Age, Australia.