TRAILBLAZER: Michele Cooper is the first female area commander to oversee the North east of the state. Her new role comes as part of an internal Rural Fire Service shake-up
TRAILBLAZER: Michele Cooper is the first female area commander to oversee the North east of the state. Her new role comes as part of an internal Rural Fire Service shake-up

Meet our new RFS area commander

WHEN Michele Cooper received the phone call offering her the job as the Rural Fire Service Area Commander for north-eastern NSW, bushfires were raging right across the state.

"It was interesting to say the least," she said.

"The internal changes started before the fires in May last year, but they were doing the recruitment process during all of those fires.

"It was good-timing in some respects, because I had to jump in and it was all there to take on straight away - I quite like working like that - I got to meet people very quickly."

As part of an internal RFS shake-up, the former Northern Beaches Council employee is trailblazing her way into the RFS.

She's the first female area commander to oversee the north-east of the state.

Overseeing a large area from Kempsey out to Armidale and up to Murwillumbah, and everywhere in between, Ms Cooper said her position as well as three other area command positions were created to improve RFS service delivery across the state.

She said this included the creation of the Area Management Model, which saw the four previous regions making up the state being replaced by eight Area Commands.

"I have a new team set-up, specialising in community risk, capability and capacity of our area and I work with eight other district managers," she said.

"I feel I have a good balance in this role coming from an environment background but also working with community and understanding that balance … ultimately managing risk is what the job is about."

As a woman, Ms Cooper said she felt honoured to get the job and to "potentially inspire other females when it came to applying for mostly male-orientated jobs".

"It feels really good," she said.

"Before council, I came from 25 years with National Parks so to step into this role, which is technically and maybe now historically, quite a male-orientated role in the RFS, feels exciting.

"The service has been really supportive … I'm really happy."

She urged young women to "have a go" when it came to applying for jobs they wanted but seemed too daunting or unobtainable.

"The world is your oyster," Ms Cooper said.

"There are so many options and possibilities out there and if you don't go for it you will never know."

Looking ahead after the devastating bushfires, Ms Cooper said the RFS was undertaking after-action reviews to look at what went well and things that could be improved which would then be "fed back into the bushfire inquiries".

"We are working with all the land managers to help and support them and to make them safe again," she said.

"I think all of us, including the government, needs to take and learn from what's happened to move forward."

"The inquires will provide a fair bit of action and information which all services will have to work on."


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