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Heathcote, Rochester fire brigades call for urgent station upgrades including female changerooms

Heathcote CFA captain Carl Watkins believes the brigade is losing members due to a lack of resources. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Male and female firefighters are "having to get changed pretty much in front of each other" due to a lack of facilities in rural brigades, resulting in problems retaining women, volunteers say.

Heathcote and Rochester Country Fire Authority (CFA) stations are both in need of redevelopments after more than 50 years servicing their communities.

Both of the regional Victorian brigades say they are struggling to meet the demand of a growing population — and retain female volunteers — due to a lack of adequate change rooms and other facilities.

Heathcote CFA 'barely serves purpose', volunteers say

Volunteers say the Heathcote CFA station needs an urgent redevelopment. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert.)

Since it was built in 1972, the Heathcote CFA station has had a few extensions.

But it isn't anywhere near large enough, according to station captain Carl Watkins.

"Not practical and it just barely serves the purpose. We've got no ground around us for training or cleaning trucks," Mr Watkins said.

Volunteers have also called for a bigger meeting room and a more practical command room.

"It's a local command facility, so we've got to be able to have the facilities to run a decent fire here," Mr Watkins said.

"The technology is pretty good but the station itself doesn't match the current technology."

More modern change rooms that cater for young female volunteers is also a must, Mr Watkins said.

"We seem to struggle to keep young members, young female members," he said.

New location needed for Rochester station

Built in the 1960s, the Rochester CFA is hoping to relocate their station to cater for the growing town, and growing volunteer base.

The Rochester fire station was built in the 1960s and is home to 48 members. (ABC Central Victoria: Kimberley Price.)

"We've got a pumper, two tankers, our rehab unit, an FCV (field command vehicle), and a trailer pump and it's a bit like Tetris sometimes trying to squeeze them in and out of the shed," captain Luke Warren said.

The Rochester CFA supports several smaller brigades in its catchment area and is the largest brigade between Bendigo and Echuca.

Mr Warren said the current station had already had five extensions.

"We're looking to move station completely," he said. 

"Whenever there's a flood the station goes under (and) we want to try and upgrade some changing facilities.

Ongoing upgrade conversations

The Victorian Government says funding for the state's fire services in 2020-21 was more than $1.2 billion. (Supplied: CFA)

Nationals MP Steph Ryan said there were several rural brigades in desperate need of modernising.

"They need somewhere where they can change, they need somewhere where they can get showers.

"There are stations right across rural and regional Victoria which need to be seriously looked at."

Minister for Emergency Services and Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said she'd been in conversations with local volunteers about the need for an upgrade of the Heathcote CFA.

The Victorian Government says funding for the state's fire services in 2020-21 was more than $1.2 billion, with more than $200 million in capital works funding.

"Victoria's fire services are well resourced and regional communities should be in no doubt they are kept safe by our amazing firefighters," a spokesperson said.

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