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Decades of service recognised
After more than 38 years of dedicated service to CFA, Andrew Howlett was recognised with an Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM) today.
“It’s a huge honour, it really is,” Andrew said.
“I feel humbled to be in the company of former Chief Officers Russell Rees and Trevor Roche…people I look up to, have worked with and have a huge amount of respect for.”
Andrew was a full time teacher at Moe High School in 1975 when he decided he wanted to do something for the community. One of his students suggested he join the local fire brigade and thus his journey with CFA began.
In 1976, Andrew moved to Rochester High and transferred his CFA membership to the local brigade. He stayed there for 17 years and helped make major changes and improvements to the way the brigade operated.
“One area was to get the brigade’s finances running by careful management and raising money from charitable organisations,” Andrew said.
“This enabled us to extend the station and put on extra trucks. I’d like to think I gave the brigade the confidence to have a go.
“Approaching different organisations also made the brigade much more public and raised their profile in the community.”
Andrew then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for 12 months as part of a teacher exchange program where he joined the local fire department and gave several presentations to neighbouring fire departments about Victorian fire services.
"The CFA Chief Officer at the time wrote me a letter of introduction and when applying to join the local fire department, it was enough to make them happy,” Andrew said.
"They said here’s a pager, here’s your turn out gear – you’re on! The whole experience was just mind blowing. They even sent me to the US National Fire Academy for a few days which was an incredible learning experience.”
Andrew brought back his American experiences to CFA where he continued volunteering.
In 1992, Andrew and his family felt it was time to find new and greater challenges by gaining promotion to Bendigo Senior Secondary College. So they moved to a new home in Maiden Gully and he joined the Eaglehawk Fire Brigade. In a short time he became part of their management team.
“The skills I’ve obtained being a school teacher gave me good organisational skills and helped me write submissions for funding,” Andrew said.
Six years later, Maiden Gully Fire Brigade was formed and Andrew was elected the first brigade Captain.
During his 13 years as Captain, Andrew helped the brigade become one of the most cohesive, well equipped brigades in the district.
One of his most impressive accomplishments was the establishment of the Advanced CFA Youth Crew program which is an elective for year 9 and 10 school students focusing on firefighting, fire prevention and community safety.
“Students would graduate from this program with their minimum skills,” Andrew said.
“It gives students good leadership and decision making skills. It’s a very satisfying course which is motivating for kids, especially at that age.
“A significant number of the students have gone on to become CFA volunteers and even career firefighters. Our current 1st Lieutenant at Maiden Gully went through this program which makes me pretty proud.”
At the end of 1995, Andrew retired as Assistant Principal at Kangaroo Flat Secondary College. He started in a full time job for CFA as the Service Delivery Planning Coordinator out of the District 2 Headquarters in Bendigo. He left a few years later but continues to do some CFA project work in data analysis on a casual basis.
He remains an active member with Maiden Gully Fire Brigade and is also currently their treasurer and secretary. He’s also a trained level 3 planning officer for an Incident Management Team (IMT) which is the role he undertook during the February 2009 bushfires.
Andrew said receiving a Queen’s Birthday honour is not just for him but also his brigade and his family.
"Firefighting is a team activity and in my view gaining the AFSM recognises not only my work but the efforts of those who have worked with me to achieve some great outcomes,” Andrew said.
“Maiden Gully Fire Brigade is an amazing success story – in 15 years, we’ve gone from a carport in a local’s backyard to a three bay station with four new appliances.”
“If it wasn’t for the support I’ve also had from my wife and family, I couldn’t have done the things I’ve done in CFA and in life in general so this award is for them too.”
Mr Howlett has made an outstanding contribution to Country Fire Authority (CFA) in Victoria as both an operational leader and an administrator. He is a person with a great deal of vision with the distinguishing characteristic that he has the ability to turn that vision into reality.
His contribution to the fire service over 38 years has been outstanding, not only for his brigade but also for the CFA as a whole.
Over the 17 years that he was a member in Rochester, he created a major change in the way the brigade operated, led major improvements in infrastructure, and left a legacy of continual improvement. In 1988, he was an excellent ambassador for the fire services of Australia while teaching in America and brought back a wide range of both practical and big picture' ideas
to benefit the CFA.
He has been a positive mentor for many CFA members, providing encouragement and guidance. Two of his more specific contributions have been his outstanding leadership of the Maiden Gully Fire Brigade from its establishment in 1998 to a point where it is one of the most effective, cohesive and well equipped brigades in the district; and his encouragement and development of youth in the CFA with particular emphasis on programs in secondary schools.