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Bones: Incident control mentor
With a background in Parks Victoria, DSE and now CFA, John ‘Bones’ Kneebone has been the ideal person to assemble an interagency team of coaches and mentors for the IMTTP.
He is now one of 18 coaches and mentors for members going through the accreditation process to become Level 3 incident controllers (ICs).
Bones is described by John Haynes as “a volunteer-friendly incident controller” with 18 Level 3 tours of duty starting in the 2003 Alpine Fires. He spent 10 years as a Parks Victoria Ranger in Charge along the Murray before becoming an Operations Manager at DSE where he was on the District Duty Officer roster. Bones was mentored by DSE’s previous Chief Fire Officer Ewan Waller.
He managed the northeast recovery following the 2006-07 campaign fires and spent six days working in the Incident Management Team out of the Kilmore Fire Station in 2009. This led to Bones being presented with a certificate of appreciation by the Kilmore Fire Brigade. “That was pretty special,” he says. “It meant a lot to me.”
Bones has been flown around the state to join, lead and support various Incident Management Teams. “I mentally prepare before being sent away,” he says. “I go into a zone and psych myself up. It’s all internal but it means I’m prepared by the time I arrive.
“You learn at every fire with old experienced crews having lots to offer. Someone might come to a meeting with a bright idea and you put that in your box of tricks. I’ve got a range of experience from what I’ve done but also because I’ve had the chance to closely watch what others have done.
“Incident controllers manage so much more than the fire. There are always side issues that you also have to be across – everything from personal issues impacting team members to broken down machines.”
While Bones has a wealth of knowledge to pass on, one drawback of incident management teams can be a lack of feedback. “But mentoring is very much a two-way street,” he says. “I’m keen to improve our giving and receiving of feedback.
“Being a mentor means helping people look at the wider view and work on their development plans. All of that is going to help my development too. You don’t realise how much you’ve learned until you have the chance to pass it on.”
Bones “apparently” comes across as calm and “apparently” people are comfortable working with him. “I’ve learned to walk around the ICC with a bag of lollies,” he says. “You find people tucked away and I catch up with all of them and let them know I’m interested in their work.
“I certainly feel appreciated now. It’s a compliment to be asked a lot of questions and I now see that I am someone people come to for advice.”
Bones likes to use humour to cut through grim times. He claims he doesn’t have a bloopers’ reel, but has gone on national morning television after working the night shift and shockingly mispronounced place names. He’s been on morning radio giving updates so often that a friend claimed to be sick of waking up to Bones’s voice in his bedroom.
Certainly Bones will be able to pass on some valuable insights about dealing with the voice in his head in the aftermath. “You have to learn to manage the fallout,” he says. “I was driving home after a tour listening to talkback. Someone called in irate about two bulldozers I’d decided should sit on a road as back-up in case something went wrong with a large backburn near a town. Nothing did go wrong so we didn’t use them. I thought it was a sound decision but this person didn’t know my entire plan; all he could see were two unused assets. I was aware it was a no-win situation.
“It bothered me and I went over and over that decision but all our decisions are intensely scrutinised. I’ve gained confidence from that. I don’t regret any decision I’ve made but I forever question if we could have done more.”
Bones never listens to talkback after a shift anymore. “Now I put on my favourite blues CD and away we go.” Another good lesson to pass on.