Bronnie Mackintosh didn’t become a firefighter until she was 32 years old, simply because growing up, she didn’t know she could be.
Now she is determined to increase diversity in Australia’s fire and emergency services.
Ms Mackintosh has worked as a journalist and was a rugby union player, playing for the Australian National Women’s team the Wallaroos.
“I didn’t hear about women being firefighters or it even being a possibility until I had already had a few different careers and had been overseas playing rugby,” Ms Mackintosh said.
“When I came back to Australia a colleague had a good friend in Fire and Rescue, NSW and he suggested it to me. That’s how most women found out about it then, just through word of mouth.”
Ms Mackintosh is now a Station Officer at Fire and Rescue NSW and founded Girls on Fire, a not-for-profit organisation that provides experiential learning programs based on firefighting operations for teenage girls and young women.
Girls on Fire provides firefighting and resilience programs in a practical outdoor learning setting. The programs are delivered by female firefighters who are employed or volunteer with any of the NSW fire and emergency service agencies or Air Services Australia.
“We teach individual and community resilience so participants can make an active contribution to help their communities prepare or recover from fire and other emergencies,” Ms Mackintosh said.
The idea for an Australian-based program came to her after volunteering at similar programs overseas in 2016 as a Winston Churchill Fellowship recipient.
“I researched the ways overseas fire services were increasing their diversity. In my recommendations I incorporated the girls fire camp as one of the strategies to consider for long-term social change.”
Since then Ms Mackintosh has set up fire camps as part of Girls on Fire. The camps are designed to increase the confidence and resilience of teenage girls and young women. They also help to develop participants’ problem-solving, teamwork and leadership skills.
For Ms Mackintosh, the motivation is two-fold.
“Firstly, it’s about community resilience and making people more prepared for what’s happening in the world and the state of uncertainty we’re living in – with earthquakes, floods, fires, natural disasters and the pandemic,” Ms Mackintosh said.
It’s also about creating an environment that builds girls and young women up.
“We’ve all been that teenage girl who is feeling awkward, insecure or uncertain and who needs a boost. An intervention like Girls on Fire where it’s really empowering, where you’re willing to be physical and strong and learn concepts of resilience, leadership and teamwork can really help,” Ms Mackintosh said.
Ms Mackintosh’s work in community safety and supporting the careers of women firefighters was recognised in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours where she was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medial (AFSM), the highest honour an Australian firefighter can receive.
Now, NAB is also proud to support Ms Mackintosh’s efforts, awarding Girls on Fire a NAB Community Grant.
This grant will fund the roll out of a greater number Girls Fire & Resilience Programs in areas impacted by the 2019 and 2020 bushfires.
“It’s incredible and with NAB’s support I’m going to be able to really take Girls on Fire into new places – it just builds scope and momentum,” Ms Mackintosh said.
“Getting a grant is like confirmation from the universe that I’m following my purpose.”
Applications for NAB Foundation Community Grants are open all year. The next round closes on February 28, 2022 and will be awarded in April 2022.
For more information please visit the NAB Foundation website.