News & Media

All for one at Malmsbury

  • (from left to right) Group Officer John Pearce, Captain Rob Schomacker, Darren Burren, Captain Tony Stephens, Captain Josh Gamble

By: Duncan Russell

Category: People

  9.26 AM 29 August, 2017

Location: District 2 News

Views: 7344

When the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre (YJC) opened a high security unit in 2015 with 45 beds for men aged 18 to 21 years, the number of annual turnouts for Malmsbury dramatically increased from an average of 50 to about 160. 

By Leith Hillard

The workload isn’t shouldered by the town’s brigade alone, however, but absorbed within the wider Kyneton Group, in particular Kyneton Fire Brigade, plus Taradale from Mt Alexander Group.

“They have it all under control,” said Operations Officer Andy Waterson, “and that’s a tough ask because Kyneton is already reasonably busy with around 240 calls annually.

“Malmsbury Captain Tony Stephens is very switched on. He’s a good strategic thinker. He’s provided strong leadership to the brigade and community by keeping locals well informed. He’s been involved in the development and implementation of our response plan for the YJC and plays a vital role in local liaison and command during incidents.”

Members of Malmsbury saw each stage of the build and conducted training inside. They also provided feedback to ensure, for example, that there is sufficient room for the Bendigo ladder platform and heavy pumpers to access the facility.

YJC callouts activate Malmsbury, Kyneton and Taradale brigades and generally take two forms: a standard alarm activation is the most common while non-standard is a call to a structure fire, disturbance or riot. The largest disturbance came in January this year when multiple fires were lit and a mass breakout led to escapees running across paddocks, car chases along the freeway and a local carjacking.

“We stage at the fire station one-and-a-half minutes from the facility along with the ambos and sometimes the police,” said Tony. “Andy, an available ops officer or I go to the facility as a CFA commander and become part of the EMT [emergency management team] while Kyneton Group works on resourcing from the LCF [local command facility] which is very well staffed. They make sure the local area still has fire coverage and coordinate changeover crews and logistics. The EMT relays comms through the LCF back to Malmsbury while the CFA commander maintains the lines of communication back to the rostered duty officer.

“Only when there’s a level of control at the facility will we enter. The risk to our members has increased and we never put them in where the clients are. There’s a lot of verbal abuse and threats and the officer in charge has a duty of care as to who goes in or whether we go in at all. The plans and processes we’ve put in place aim to mitigate any risk.”

That includes plans for a fast-running grassfire approaching this high-security facility where vulnerable people are locked in a confined space and can’t be evacuated. The fence line has been cleared up to 12 metres and a pumper strike team would be sent for protection.

“We take a progression perspective,” said Kyneton Captain Josh Gamble, “partnering across the brigades where we have a few new lieutenants and building up their levels of experience. Join our brigades and you’ll be busy and there’s satisfaction in managing that.”

Taradale Captain Rob Schomacker agreed. “It’s not same old, same old. The way we train and resource is at a new norm. Our long-term average number of annual calls was 40 to 50 and now we’re at about 120, but our members are coming out for these calls and attending fast.”

Just listen to the upbeat tone of one of Malmsbury brigade’s Facebook posts from June: “A good night at training … followed up by a Justice Centre alarm call. Three appliances fully crewed turning out in 30 seconds!”

Pride and professionalism on show in under a minute.

“There was local anger after the mass breakout – not surprising – but the brigade and group have done really well to maintain a good attitude and our response hasn’t deteriorated one bit,” continued Andy. “Malmsbury members are perhaps the most visible locals to have that direct contact with the facility and the community looks to them to maintain a calm and commonsense attitude. They’ve never taken a backwards step.”

Photos by Leith Hillard

Last Updated: 29 August 2017