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Eaglehawk's youth revolution
***Hayden Allen and Krystal Widdows are being profiled as part of a special series focusing on volunteers to celebrate National Volunteer Week May 12-18.
There’s a youth revolution underway at CFA’s all-volunteer Eaglehawk Fire Brigade with all but one member of the brigade management team under 30 years of age
Hayden Allen was elected captain earlier this year not long before his 26th birthday.
“I’d been first lieutenant before that,” says Hayden, “and was mentored in the role by a CFA operations officer. I was pretty stoked that the brigade had the trust in me to elect me captain and felt ready to go for it.”
In fact Hayden was already an old timer in the brigade, with membership going back 14 years to his days as a Junior member then Junior leader.
He estimates he has turned out to between 700 and 800 incidents including deployments to other parts of Victoria in need. He’s also built up an impressive range of CFA qualifications from crew leader through to the use of breathing apparatus.
Hayden is proud to be following in the firefighting footsteps of two great uncles including the late Kevin Murley, Eaglehawk captain for 32 years and recipient of the prestigious Australian Fire Services Medal.
“He died when I was just a few weeks into the captaincy,” continues Hayden. “It was a huge loss for the Eaglehawk community and there are so many issues that come up in the brigade that I’d like to keep talking to him about.
“I can run things by ex-captain Eric Smith and all the captains of the nearby brigades in our group have told me to call if I need anything. The same goes for the operations staff at Bendigo headquarters.
“Culture plays a big part in both the present and the future of the brigade. The culture at Eaglehawk has always been to give everybody a go. Everybody in the brigade is approachable.
"The challenge now is for this younger generation of leaders to step up and continue to build that positive culture.
“We’re already future planning. We cover 40 kilometres north of Eaglehawk for building fires and we have new estates going up so we need to be on the front foot.”
The brigade turns out to an average of 180-200 incidents a year and has about 80 members, not all of whom respond on the fire truck.
Eaglehawk Fire Brigade Secretary Krystal Widdows is also a CFA veteran at 29 years of age. She joined the Juniors at 12 but has been around the station since she was born with her father a mad keen volunteer.
“We’re a close brigade,” says Krystal. “We’re family. There are older members who’ve been extra father figures to me. That closeness means you get out on the fireground and know what everyone is capable of and how you pull together.
“I was on the first truck that turned out on Black Saturday along with ex-captain Eric Smith and 2nd Lieutenant Brett MacCallum so we’ve all been through a lot together.
“I think a positive with the new management team is that young people accept change. We’ve come in with fresh new ideas. I run our Facebook page which has been going for six months and we’re looking into Twitter. We’ve just elected a community safety coordinator so we’re boosting that area and we also have a focus on fundraising.”
Meanwhile Krystal balances her brigade role with a busy social life, playing sport and a full time job in real estate.
“We’re always on the lookout for new members, especially people available during the day,” she says.
“People can always drop in on a Sunday morning and have a chat about what sort of volunteering they’d like to do. We have a good mix of members and we plan to keep that up.”