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ESA Commissioner says she’s doing fine and thanks for asking

Michael Weaver 3 February 2020 56
Orroral Valley fire, Emergency Services Agency

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan during a press conference on the weekend. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

Many have asked how the face of the bushfire emergency in Canberra, Georgeina Whelan, has been handling the pressures of providing almost constant updates to the community.

“Thank you for that question,” the commissioner of the ACT Emergency Services Agency said during one of her many public updates as the Orroral Valley fire pushed the boundaries of the ACT and the limits of many who have watched it from Canberra.

“Usually, I don’t try and get that up close and personal with people, but I am obviously a very relatable individual,” Commissioner Whelan told local and international media on Sunday.

“As a non-firefighter, I’m hoping I’m relaying the information in plain speak to our community as I would want it to be exchanged as a resident.

“What I can say is that I have the best team I could possibly want or need behind me.”

As a relative newcomer to the role facing her first bushfire season, Commissioner Whelan is no stranger to an emergency, having spent 33 years in the Australian Army where she rose through the ranks to the rank of brigadier. She was also instrumental in setting up and leading a team in an offshore field hospital onboard a Royal Australian Navy warship following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2003.

Whelan is also a wife and mother of four, including a child with special needs.

“My team are constantly stepping up and providing me with the technical information I need, so I can assess, evaluate and make the decisions that I need to make and provide the direction that I need to make as the emergency controller and as the commissioner,” she said.

“But I’ve got to tell you, they are keeping a really close eye on me. They make sure I get the rest that I need and find me the time to take time out and have a cup of coffee.

“I have my mentors supporting me. Shane Fitzsimmons (NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner) has been on the phone and texting me, giving me the advice I need. But also, there are the experienced senior commissioners from around the country, they look out for the new people.

“But I can say that after 33 years of experience in the military, I do understand the importance of keeping myself where I need to be – up to date and ready to go – and that my work-rest cycles are as equally as important as my firefighters on the ground.”

Commissioner Whelan said she had nothing but praise for the community’s feedback during the bushfire emergency.

“Can I say to the community, you’re just great. Thank you for the support that you are providing myself as the commissioner and my staff here in the ESA.

“We are really feeling that support and it’s what keeps us going. It makes what we do very worthwhile.”

Mark Brown and Georgeina Whelan

ACT Fire and Rescue Chief Officer Mark Brown and ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan discuss the Orroral Valley fire. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

Before taking on the role of ESA Commissioner, Whelan led the ACT State Emergency Service.

In 2015, the then Brigadier Whelan won Telstra ACT Businesswoman of the Year and was responsible for the healthcare of 71,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) members.

During her time in the Australian Army, Brigadier Whelan led 54 military health facilities and 1800 staff across Australia, providing healthcare to 56,000 full-time and 15,000 part-time Australian ADF members.

Whelan was awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross for developing an ADF rehabilitation and mental health program in 2003.

She has served overseas several times during her career, including a stint in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2003-4, where she commanded the ANZAC Field Hospital following the devastating Boxing Day tsunami at Banda Aceh. She earned the Order of Australia for this work and former Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove applauded her humility and leadership skills, and praised her ability to inspire people to achieve extraordinary things under arduous conditions.

Whelan said her forte is the ability to manage, lead and inspire her team to achieve success.

“I am not afraid to ask questions, champion new initiatives and encourage innovation,” she said.

“The world needs women who inspire commitment, loyalty, excellence and diversity to deliver great outcomes irrespective of the field they are in.”


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56 Responses to ESA Commissioner says she’s doing fine and thanks for asking
Jeannine Slattery Jeannine Slattery 8:32 am 05 Feb 20

Thank you for keeping us up to date.

Jillian CarsonJackson Jillian CarsonJackson 7:57 am 05 Feb 20

Commissioner is an amazing woman and role model. Thank you!

Jen Wright Jen Wright 6:49 pm 04 Feb 20

Just can't please some people..if you think you can do better go out and try..

She is doing a fantastic job..Georgina for PM

Heather Ferguson Heather Ferguson 6:11 pm 04 Feb 20

We love Edrom Lodge and will be back!!!💖

John Hynes John Hynes 5:14 pm 04 Feb 20

Good on her but why are people surprised that a leader of an organisation doesnt panic at the drop of a hat? If they did, they wouldnt be leaders

Christina Carroll Christina Carroll 1:57 pm 04 Feb 20

She's awesome.

kim2614 kim2614 12:26 pm 04 Feb 20

Michael Mick Smith sure doesn’t like Georgeina. Mr Miserableness. Typical lounge chair whinger. Have you done anything Michael to help out? Georgeina Whelan, firies, Andrew Barr you have all done a wonderful job, showing real leadership. Georgeina Whelan is an inspiration to us all. Yay the women.

Michelle Renee Michelle Renee 10:16 am 04 Feb 20

She is such a great example for our young people.

Mandy Ross Mandy Ross 9:12 am 04 Feb 20

Great job. The people complaining are likely to be the ones who blame the ACT fire brigade for the fires in 2003. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Michael Mick Smith Michael Mick Smith 8:30 am 04 Feb 20

Im sorry, but it doesnt matter what you think of her as a person, its what she does about the fires, and i for one think she has made a dogs breakfast of it. It has been far too slow to put out a fire that started this whole thing, and that firs was easy to get to, for the first couple of days we heard no aircraft heading to the fire, then when it starts to get out of control, it seems there was a mass panic.

    Matthew James Matthew James 12:58 pm 04 Feb 20

    I didn't see any aircraft near it in the critical first 30-60 minutes but within 5 hours there were multiple aircraft attacking it including the DC-10 attacking it from the Corin side and the RJ85 near Tharwa, and they've been hard at it every since.

Ron Swanson Ron Swanson 7:51 am 04 Feb 20

This reads like the betoota advocate

Anne Hill Anne Hill 7:49 am 04 Feb 20

She was a customer when we had a business, she was always very friendly & always had time for a chat, a lovely lady 😊

Amanda Uren Amanda Uren 7:47 am 04 Feb 20

What a contrast in leadership from our PM during the bushfire crisis.

Anil Gupta Anil Gupta 7:34 am 04 Feb 20

Very impressive.

Nigel Earnshaw Nigel Earnshaw 7:25 am 04 Feb 20

Great to see these positive comments; she was certainly respected in her previous uniform

Liz Lyell Liz Lyell 2:30 am 04 Feb 20

What an amazing lady. Thank you for everything.

Rosanna Wilson Rosanna Wilson 10:52 pm 03 Feb 20

Karen Gruber - everyone is just loving her! This is the commissioner I was talking about.

    Marina Simoncini Marina Simoncini 9:38 pm 04 Feb 20

    Rosanna Wilson nice to see genuine leadership at these levels every once in a while. Clearly the emergency services are getting it right!

    Karen Gruber Karen Gruber 9:45 pm 05 Feb 20

    Rosanna Wilson yes she seems to be very experienced and influential 👍🏼

Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 10:47 pm 03 Feb 20

Georgina for PM!

Vivienne Beddoe Vivienne Beddoe 9:11 pm 03 Feb 20

Grace under pressure

Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 8:43 pm 03 Feb 20

She has an amazing mix of authority and bluntness, and some motherly warmth.. , you just have to do what she says..she can alarm you and calm you down in one sentence. Very unique qualities that are solely female🙂

    Charles Ironside Charles Ironside 6:09 pm 08 Feb 20

    I don't agree with your last statement. Shane Fitzsimons in NSW did exactly the same job and had the same characteristics - have a look at some video of him, and particularly of his incredible empathy at the funerals. Whelan is fantastic, but we don't need t make this a gender thing do we?

    Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 10:39 pm 08 Feb 20

    Charles Ironside ..I do admire Shane too. I guess I wasn't wanting to make it a gender thing..but rather just reflecting on why I am so fascinated with Whelan..and it is certainly a female motherly trait that stirs me and makes me a follower..

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