Ballarat firefighter bags Queen’s birthday gong

Ruth Ryan.
Ruth Ryan.

A leading Ballarat firefighter has been awarded a gong in today’s Queen’s birthday honours list.

CFA captain Ruth Ryan was one of the first women to study forest science at university before she forged a career in Victoria’s fire services, specialising in managing bushfires in forests and plantations.

The 35-year veteran has now received the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal in a nod to her leadership and acting as a role model for younger female firefighters.

“It was an unusual career choice as a woman when I left school,” Ms Ryan said.

“But I grew up in rural Victoria so I was very keen to work in regional and rural Victoria and I’d always enjoyed the sciences, so I studied forest science at university. I guess I was something of a pioneer, but I haven’t thought much about that.

“I just love working in the natural environment and all the challenges that it brings and I’ve had some very good mentors through the years.”

Ms Ryan is in charge of seven CFA forest industry brigades and also oversees the fire management of more than 160,000 hectares of plantations across the Ballarat region.

In 1983, she was thrown into the deep end in her first season after graduating when the Ash Wednesday fires hit Victoria in 1983, killing 47 people.

Following this, Ms Ryan was involved in a command role during the Black Saturday fires which killed 173 people in 2009.

She also helped bring together 12 private forestry companies which together signed an agreement to adopt common operating procedures in fire management. “It can take 20 to 30 years to grow the crop so it’s a big investment – and loss if there’s a fire,” Ms Ryan said.

“Because we sell into the local market, the saw mills and processing plants, it can affect employment in those communities.”