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Eulogy for Werribee's Alan Kendall
The following eulogy to celebrate the life of longtime Werribee Fire Brigade member Alan Kendall was delivered by Captain Michael Wells. The funeral was held at Werribee Fire Station in November 2015
It’s hard to know where to begin. For Alan crammed so much into his 47 years in the brigade, that I am sure to miss something. It is a pleasure to be able to stand here in our fire station, and speak of Alan, the very same station that was so much part of Alan’s life and that he helped build. I can assure you the station will not be the same without him. For many of us here do not know a fire station without Mr Kendall.
So, if I may, let me take you on a journey of Alan and his involvement in the Werribee Fire Brigade.
Let us begin our journey on Remembrance Day, the 11th of the 11th 1968, the day Alan joined the brigade. A date that changed his life forever and made the Werribee brigade all that much better for the next 47 years. Not only our brigade, but the CFA and the community were better for his membership.
Alan was listed as reserve until 1969, when he was placed on the brigade’s active list.
It didn’t take long for Alan to establish his impact on the brigade and show what he was made of. This occurred in January 1969, the 8th to be exact, as severe grass fires tore through Werribee and Lara. Arriving at the station with no trucks left, he showed his initiative and commandeered John Phillips HK panel van, took it around to Kendall engineering, filled it with blokes, knapsacks and beaters and headed out to fight the fire. John returned to the station to find his car missing, with reassurance it would be back soon. It was returned none the worse for wear.
Alan was not only a great firefighter, but became one of our great leaders and mentors to many in the station, myself included. Alan held the positions of First Lieutenant from 1982 through to 1988, then second Lieutenant in 1988 and that of Foreman from 1986 to 1992. At that time we had a rural and urban brigade, and he held positions in both. He went on to serve as second lieutenant again from 1992 to 1994. In 1998 Alan took on the role of secretary until 2010.
Alan remains our longest-serving secretary and brought all his business acumen and sound decision-making skill to perhaps the hardest role in the brigade. It was also significant for me in that I was no longer secretary and was over the moon that Alan took over.
Alan went on and made this role his own. Although I am told he had some misgivings initially, in that he thought he may not be as good as Les Pengally, one of our other legendary brigade figures. I can assure you, as can the Captain under which he served, that this was unfounded. No item was missed, the record keeping meticulous, the correspondence all completed and the books balanced. In particular he took great pride ensuring all members received their awards when due. He set a high standard that has continued until this very day and will for many years to come with our newer members asking themselves, ‘What if I am not as good as Alan?’
Those who served under Alan when he was an officer did so with pride. Many of us here today are better firefighters and dare I say individuals from the positive influence Alan has had on us. I can say without any hesitation, Alan was one of the most competent officers I have had the privilege to serve under.
Alan also had a slight competitive streak which he showed early, and that he was pretty good behind the wheel helped, something that Adrian has also inherited. On this occasion the siren sounded and a column of smoke was showing at a hay shed fire in Werribee South. At the time we had state of the art Austin takers. Tanker one headed out with Alan following soon after in the state spare. Heading down Duncans Road he caught up to tanker 1, heading over Duncans Road over pass he had them, and to what I am told is a few strange looks overtook them. They got to the hay shed fire, ran their hoses, started the pump as the flames were getting bigger and found out why the tanker had such good performance: it was empty. At least the hoses were ready for the other truck.
Alan also had a profound impact on getting road crash rescue into the brigade. He with many members at the time became frustrated arriving at scenes and being able to do very little with the hand tools they carried. Alan was a prime mover in not only the fundraising, but the building of our appliances to enable us to carry the Jaws of Life and save countless lives.
Alan also taught others in the brigade these life-saving skills. The people he saved are countless, and his legacy continues to this very day with his son being one of the best rescue operators in the business, and many individuals being alive due to his drive and determination to have the brigade be involved in rescue. I have no doubt he felt immense pride when he reflected on this as well as when he and Adrian turned out together.
Alan also built our trailer tankers many years ago, although he did have a bit of explaining to do out burning off one evening when he and Pud admiring their handiwork watched the wheel fall off and roll past them. I have no doubt it was Pud’s fault.
Our journey continues and it wasn’t all operations with Alan. One of his strongest drivers was his sense of family and enjoyment of life, and he brought this with him to the brigade. He was a founding member of the social committee and a driver of social functions, from rotating dinners, establishing the children’s Christmas parties, Elmore Field Trips, comedy nights, camping trips, competing in the cardboard cup at Albert Park Lake, bus trips, cruises, establishing the Hosereel Newsletter, annual dinners and a reverse deb ball where he scrubbed up alright in a gown. He was also the cook for the Good Friday appeals and made the BBQ that we cooked on for more than 20 years. He even managed to burn himself one year when lighting it, as the rest of us were too scared to.
He and Heather were avid supporters of the running team and could be seen down at the running track at many demos. I can assure you demos will never be the same, when we look across at our marquee and see him missing.
Alan also either built, repaired or painted our running carts and equipment. And for those wondering why it was painted royal blue, at the time Vic Rail train carriages were painted royal blue and JR, who may have worked with said trains, produced the paint and, well, it was a bit hard to return once it was on the cart he and Alan painted.
Alan was always fundraising and helped raise funds for our first Landcruiser forward control, one of the first in the area back in the early 80s. He and other members would gather at his workshop and fit it out with lights, sirens, a bull bar and the latest lighting and 4WD equipment. This continues to this day with every forward control or vehicle purchased being fitted out by the Kendalls. A great deal of the steel work you see here and in the memorial garden was also made by Alan. We also carry several items on our rescue that Alan made back in the 70s: a testament to his skill.
It has been often said that the fire station is our second home. If that’s the case, Alan’s workshop was our third. At one stage it had a sign indicating it was a home for lost firemen. The Friday night gatherings with hot chips cooked extra crunchy, working on brigade vehicles, including our first bus, Pud trying to burn it down with fire crackers or cleaning all the bricks from the old station to reuse in our courtyard – it all happened at Alan’s workshop.
Alan also had the FRS installed in his workshop. If it rang, Alan would pick up and indicate with a thumbs up if it was a job, and all his help would suddenly disappear.
Alan also employed brigade members and gave them a working start to life, in particular Sean Brittain and Brett Menzies. One could not ask for a better start to a working career, just never be late for you only did it once.
It was also a place where many of us young lads would ask our dads about some interesting calendars on the wall. Needless to say the explanations were brief with the follow-up line, ‘Don’t tell your mother’.
Alan’s family home was also open all hours to many within the brigade, from personal matters or brigade. You could always find guidance when it was needed. Alan and the family also knew how to throw a pretty mean party and many a fire brigade function was had or ended up at Kendall’s.
I am also told reliably that many an interesting training night was held at his Collins Street home.
Throughout his career within the fire service, Alan received many awards. These included his 12 year, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45 year service awards, the latter being presented with all his children present in 2014. It was an outstanding evening. Alan was also made a life member of the brigade and CFA in 1999, and received his National Medal in 1984 with a further three clasps in following years.
In another first for Alan and the brigade, he also received a letter of commendation from the Victorian Parliament in 2014. This was also tabled in Parliament and as such is part of Victorian Parliamentary history.
The story of Alan in the brigade would not be complete without mentioning the role his family has played. Not only have they supported him in his roles, but all of his children have been involved from the juniors, seniors and auxiliary. The commitment from Alan was outstanding, but so is that of his family. All those in the brigade knew just how much his family meant to him and his dedication to them.
The brigade also took strength from Alan from when he was first diagnosed. The strength and dignity that he showed was and remains inspirational to many. Even as he battled, he could always be called upon for advice and guidance and never once took a backwards step within the brigade, especially our meetings, and he was also our electoral officer. Alan’s input into our centenary celebrations was outstanding, with him researching all 744 past and present members and their service – an amazing effort.
I know it’s probably unusual to have thank yous in a funeral service but I feel I must thank Heather, Tania, Adrian, Jodi and their families for sharing Alan with us, his other family, thank you.
Our journey with Alan in the brigade has been, one of adventure, trials and tribulations and positive outcomes for the brigade and the community. He has led from the front and guided those around him. He is a friend to all and a mentor to many and will be sadly missed.
We as a brigade should cherish these memories and reflect often. In particular, I ask you to cast your minds back one week to our roll call at Alan’s home. It highlights not only the respect that we have for Alan and his family but also the affection for which we hold him and the positive impact he has had on us as a brigade and individuals. It was an amazing thing you as a brigade did for Alan and you should be proud.
When I started, I mentioned that I would take you on a journey. It is hard to capture everything Alan was to our brigade and I hope I have painted a picture. I have not captured everything, and I encourage you to take time and share your stories with each other and his family later today.
So in finishing all I can say is, Alan is one of a kind and I am glad he chose to share his life with us.