Interview: Greg Nettleton, CFS Chief Officer, South Australian Country Fire Service

Tell us about the journey to your current role and what it this role entails?

My current role is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Officer for the South Australian Country Fire Service (SACFS).  My fire service journey started way back in 1973 when I joined a Victorian Country Fire Authority brigade as a young volunteer in the Mallee wheat growing area.  Grain production is a major economic contributor to communities in this area and the impact of fire can be devastating for the local community.  There was an expectation that a young male would join the local fire brigade.  However my first career started as an officer in the Army.  After 20+ years in the defence force I moved on to become a regional director with the then WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority.   In 2005 I moved to Darwin to become the Chief Officer of the Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service before moving to South Australia to lead the SACFS. My current role sees me being responsible for an organisation that provides a range of fire and emergency services capabilities right across South Australia.  SACFS has around 170 paid staff, 13500 volunteers who operate from 425 fire stations with a vehicle fleet of around 1000 heavy and light vehicles.  During summer months we also operate 26 firefighting aircraft.  In the since August 2018 we have provided resources to support fires in the USA, Canada, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria.  SACFS also has an international aid program assisting Kiribati to establish a fire service in that country.

Can you describe a project you are working on/recently completed, and any key challenges you have faced along the way and how they were overcome?

In SACFS we are always working on multiple projects simultaneously.  A major project underway is our internal communications to ensure our staff and volunteers are informed on what is happening in SACFS.  This is quite challenging for a number of factors. One is the sheer diversity of our volunteers who are drawn from many walks of life.  What one volunteer based in outer metropolitan Adelaide wants to know is completely different to a volunteer in Coober Pedy for instance.  We are just implementing this new work and the results are not yet in on how successful it will be.  Our focus in on more video media rather than emails etc. Another project is under development which is our strategy out to 5 and 10 years.   We don’t call it a strategic plan but more a strategic direction. One of the key elements is to increase the number of female volunteers holding officer positions.  While our volunteer numbers show we have around 23{802238075386540f56ff51177b29e561e146d6ad749d3ad56f8d94eb00021cb8} women, the number of women in leadership roles is very much less.  We are also working on balancing our age profile within brigades.

What did you learn from this project? What did it achieve?

It is too early to determine achievements of these projects.

What excites you most about the future?

The success of the two projects mentioned excites me because it ensures SACFS is prepared for the future.  There are many challenges ahead that are beyond SACFS control but if we don’t have a plan to address the challenges it will become increasingly difficult to provide emergency services to our communities.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to further their career in government, what would it be?

Have a good understanding of what your agency provides to the community and how you can make services better.  Have a good understanding of how Government works and the challenges faced by competing demands within Government for resources.  Get yourself a mentor at least 2 or 3 grades above your current grade to enable you to see the bigger picture.

Where do you look to for further education? E.g. articles, podcasts, news sources, courses – e.g. University, online, internal etc?

I have studied at the tertiary level and have 2 Masters Degrees and a Bachelor degree.  But some of the best education is from experiences and from other people.  Travel is an excellent educator.  I have been fortunate to travel in my work but also during my holidays.  Staying at home is too boring and a waste of time – travel somewhere even if it is within your local area.  Printed and video media is also a good educator. I stay aware from social media – who knows the legitimacy of some things people publish and how accurate is the source?

What are you most looking forward to at the Women Leaders series?

Listening to hear what other people have to say.