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Battling fires at work and home
***Pat Quinn, Morwell Mine Earthworks Superintendent, and CFA volunteer is being profiled as part of a special series focusing on volunteers to celebrate National Volunteer Week May 12-18.
After three days protecting Morwell from a fire that threatened his own home, 1st Lieutenant Pat Quinn returned to find his workplace engulfed in one of the largest and most complex fires in Victoria’s history.
“I’d never seen it so bad − I pulled up at 5.30am and all the batters were glowing through the wind and movement. My life was on hold after that. We were working 13-hour days, six days a week,” said Pat.
For six weeks Pat alternated between his role as the Earthworks Superintendent for RTL Mining and Earthworks, based at the Morwell mine, and leader of the Morwell brigade.
“My focus was to support my staff at the mine as well as the CFA personnel – excavating and bulldozing tracks for firefighters to access the firefight. It was challenging on every aspect, we were fighting a fire and a flood at the same time. We had guys up to their knees in the mud pulling hose.
“There are a few CFA volunteers from different brigades working in my team, so I grabbed them as sector commanders. Having their firefighting experience helped, as we all spoke the same language and knew what had to happen with strike teams and zones and sectors. We could all talk ‘CFA talk’.
“We had a few days where we were very lucky – things could have turned out different if it wasn’t for the teamwork between CFA, MFB and the mine. We had one day where the fire came out of the mine and came within 20 metres of the power stations, if not closer at times. I believe we saved the power station that day.”
The fires throughout those six weeks affected Pat not only as a firefighter, community member and employee – but as a family man.
“On that first Sunday my house was threatened by bushfire. I had to go home and tell my wife and kids to get out – I’ve never had to do that before. It’s not easy to talk about.
“We were all over the town – going from one end to the other trying to pull the fire up – while it came within 100 metres of my place. My neighbours protected it while I was gone using my little trailer tank and I had the guys ringing me through the day letting me know the house was safe.
“I’d teamed up with Senior Station Officer Gareth McDermott as a Strike Team leader for the Hernes Oak fire, and we had the sector along the whole Melbourne road. The team did an outstanding job pulling it up from getting into the chicken farm and the A.P.N Maryvale paper mill.
“Then my workplace, where I’ve worked for 28 years, was on fire as well. My livelihood. It’s hard, you’re worried about your workforce, the firefight and the brigade.
While Pat worked all day at the mine, and often being called to support his brigade after hours, his wife Mandy worked the nightshift escorting firefighters around the mine.
“There were a few times through that month where I had to turn the pager off – to get away and get some peace of mind with the family. On one of my days off I took my daughter to school and they were saying prayers for all the firefighters – they’d drawn lots of pictures for us. All the schools in the valley did, it was great.."
Community support kept Pat and the whole Morwell station inspired.
“On the first Monday we were driving back through the town for a lunch break with our windows down. People were yelling out ‘thank you’ and ‘we love the CFA’, that was very special. I think there’s a lot more people interested in joining the brigade now.”
Increased interest in the brigade is great news for Pat, who has just been re-elected for another two terms as 1st Lieutenant – which will take him to 21 terms. He’s been with CFA as a senior member for 33 years.
“Next year Morwell Brigade will be 100 years old – it’s a special place. I’ve got guys in the brigade that came through the Juniors with me and are still part of CFA – alongside our families. My wife is in the auxiliary and my two sons are in Juniors – hopefully my daughter gets involved when she’s of age.”
“I’ve experienced many big events through CFA – mine fires, house fires, the church street explosion. I’ve pulled a man out of a fire and saved his life, I’ve caught a firebug and seen them brought to justice. I’ve also seen comradeship and people enjoying the wins together.
“For me it’s more about the friendship than the firefighting. There’s a great mateship in hard times and I’ve seen career staff and volunteers help each other out. It’s about the people that I believe in and trust in – people that I’ve shared scary moments with. It’s a sense of being with people that are dedicated to what you’re dedicated to. It’s a real team here at Morwell.”