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Are we there yet?
The third annual Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Forum was held in Bendigo over the weekend, with 300 members discussing the topic ‘Fire Safety: are we there yet?'
In 2011, the inaugural forum attracted members from 70 brigades. That figure rose to 100 brigades in 2012 and a staggering 160 brigades for the 2013 event.
CEO Mick Bourke delivered the opening address, thanking the volunteer reference group for their magnificent effort in organizing the weekend.
“It’s mammoth – we don’t see this very often. Every one of us in this room manages emergency and risk all day, every day. It’s what we do,” he said.
Steve Warrington, CFA Deputy Chief Officer brought on a spontaneous round of applause by drawing attention to a CFA member who led a community fireguard group in Kinglake: “the one person in the room who probably saved more lives than any other on Black Saturday.”
“She isn’t wearing medals and you won’t see her featured in the Herald Sun, but everyone in that street (where residents were community fireguard members) survived,” he said.
“It is what we do to empower communities that will ultimately save their lives.
“We need to tell our communities to plan as if CFA doesn’t exist, then if we are there, treat it as a bonus. We don’t have enough trucks to go to every house."
With Brigade Community Support Coordinators newly established as a Brigade Management Team position, Steve was keen to emphasise that the change is not about foisting extra work on people.
“It’s not about asking you to do more things. It's about picking your team, thinking out of the box and being flexible.
“In the past, if you didn’t want to do minimum skills and get on the truck, you didn't have opportunities. That’s all changed now. We want different people with different skills in our brigades," Steve said.
Chris Pude, a new firefighter at Scoresby, said that it was one thing to get on a truck and quite another to engage the community.
“I’m trying to get our firefighters and station officers involved and excited, so its good to meet others doing the same thing” he said.
“Everyone recognizes it’s important but it’s another thing to be proactive and get organised and get out there in the community."
Sarah from Lilydale Fire Brigade is actively involved in Fire Safe Kids and looking for more ways to reach the community.
“I’m not as interested in being on a fire truck – I have been involved in that but my main thing is community engagement,” she said.
When interrupted to answer questions for this story, Chris and Sarah were deep in conversation with Brent Van der Ross, a volunteer manager of community engagement at Rowville.
“I’m here to get ideas on what we can do and how we can make it work with the prevention side of things,” he said.
The Community Fire Awareness forum runs from Saturday 3 August to Sunday 4 August and encompasses a range of sessions run by CFA volunteer and staff members from all over the state.