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A ‘Wordback’ to our veteran volunteers
“Make tankers 10” is a radio call that goes out to VicFire dispatchers routinely from first responders to significant bushfires during high fire danger periods these days.
But Ex-Captain Robert Hooppell from Malmsbury Fire Brigade remembers when there was no such thing.
When Robert began as a CFA volunteer firefighter in the early ‘60s fire trucks didn’t have a radio. And no – for any Gen Y readers – they didn’t have mobile phones either.
Robert was recognised for 55 years’ service to the CFA at the recent Malmsbury Fire Brigade annual dinner and awards night. Two young firefighters, Ellie Turner and Jake Sundblom, were presented with the inaugural Robert Hooppell Award for their dedication and contribution to the brigade.
In the ‘60s when Robert started, fire calls were taken by phone, directed by the town’s telephone exchange operator. The operator would often have known who to call if the Captain wasn’t home – remember, no mobiles. The 000 emergency number was introduced only in major urban centres in 1961, the year Robert started as a CFA volunteer.
“There we no pagers in those days,” said Robert. “You would get a call from the phone exchange operator telling you where the fire was. You would gather up whomever you could find, get on the truck and head out. That was it – you had to make do with what you had.
“You would just be hoping that nearby brigades weren’t too far behind.”
Any firefighter today who has had to “make tankers 10” will appreciate what a daunting task those early volunteers would have faced.
So does Robert think our fire seasons are getting more severe nowadays?
“No I don’t think so,” he said. “We have always had some years when conditions were worse than others.
“I would say that when we had one major fire in a season it used to raise the alert levels in the community and the rest of the season was usually pretty quiet. Not so much nowadays.”
The CFA recognised more than a century of service at Malmsbury awards night, including the presentation of National Medals to Captain Tony Stephens, Ex-Captain Chris Gray and Firefighter Brian Campbell. Brigade Secretary and Treasurer Bruce Dolphin received a National Medal with Clasp in recognition of 25 years’ service.
The awards were presented by CFA District 2 Operations Manager Steve Smith on behalf of the Chief Officer.
The brigades Member of the Year Award went to Firefighter Wayne Baker.