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Calm efforts recognised when the heat is on
It's sometimes said there's a reason for everything we do, even though we might not recognise it at the time.
It's October 2016, and a handful of new CFA volunteer firefighters sit nervously in the training room of a small fire station in the central Victorian township of Newstead. They anxiously fidget, as I hand out their paperwork and work books and quickly introduce myself as Chris their bushfire instructor.
During my loose preamble, I mention that being a volunteer firefighter is not just about putting water on fires, wearing yellow overalls or driving big red trucks. It carries certain imbedded humanitarian values required in many civilised, first-response cultures. In an emergency, the ability to use your initiative to help another person in immediate strife, to not over think a crisis, to remain focused when others are paralysed with confusion and uncertainty, will always be highly-regarded attributes.
I emphasise, however, that there will always be spectators, armchair experts or critics of your work, sometimes during but mainly after an event. I reinforce that immediate critical decisions in an emergency are moral-based. The rescue of a life or to save anyone from further injury must always take priority.
I draw a picture of an eight-pointed star on the grubby whiteboard then describe to the learners that this is the CFA Fire Service Star. The star’s origin is based on the ancient Maltese Cross and I emphasise that the points or tenants of the star relate closely to us in our emergency service work. The points represent the noble virtues of tact, loyalty, dexterity, observation, sympathy, explicitness and perseverance. They appreciate the sentiment and nod in agreement.
This immediately brings to life animated conversations from some of the students, and their real-life emergency experiences. I also mention that the star is unfortunately no longer printed in CFA emergency service training manuals, but it’s still included on the CFA cap.
During late 2016, Dale Edwards from Newstead & District Fire Brigade, successfully graduated as a new CFA volunteer firefighter. It was a few months later that he found himself needing to apply a number of those virtues in a challenging and unusual rescue.
Dale had just walked into a supermarket at Kangaroo Flat near Bendigo during the early morning hours on 11 January this year. The day was like any other working morning for Dale, except he heard a man’s frantic screams for help. Without hesitation Dale immediately raced in the direction of the screams to discover that a young worker at a bakery had been pushing a large trolley heavily loaded with bread into an industrial oven. The trays of bread on the moving trolley had slipped forward, and the baker had akwardly attempted to grab them. This resulted in the worker trapping his hand between the operating oven and the upset trays.
Dale worked feverishly for about 10 minutes to successfully release the man’s hand, while also keeping him conscious. The oven had been set at 230 degrees celsius. It was realised soon after the rescue that Dale had suffered a dislocated shoulder from the physical effort required and that he had also sustained some major burns. The worker had also suffered third-degree burns and that he later needed four of his fingers amputating at hospital.
Police and others at the scene, praised Dale’s singular response initiatives and his calmness, during and after the emergency. It was realised after the event that Dale’s actions had saved the man from a far greater injury.
On 15 November 2017 Dale, along with 19 other people, was recognised by the Royal Humane Society of Australasia for his bravery. Dale was presented with a Royal Humane Society Certificate of Merit by the Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC at Government House, Melbourne.