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Faces of CFA: Acting VMO Meaghan Cooper
What are your CFA roles?
I’ve been a Planned Burn Resource Coordinator since November 2015 and, since early April, I’ve been the Acting Vegetation Management Officer for districts six and seven. It’s a big opportunity.
I’m also a volunteer at Barongarook West. My brigade is very supportive of planned burning and knows that it’s my passion.
Why did you join?
I started my volunteering with SES 10 years ago and did a lot of courses, then took annual leave and leave without pay because I knew that I wanted to get into emergency management. That led me to a job as a Municipal Fire Prevention Officer with Colac Otway Shire before I joined Colac Fire Brigade as a volunteer.
I took a really keen interest in reducing the bushfire risk in the landscape and understanding fire, so becoming an operational CFA member was a stepping stone to learn more about fire behaviours in different landscapes and vegetation types.
What was the first incident that made an impact on you?
I went on a strike team to the Grampians in 2013 and it was an eye opener looking at the operational structure on the ground.
DELWP were doing some strategic burns and I found it absolutely fascinating to see how the different agencies do things.
What incident has had the greatest impact on you?
It was an SES incident – a drunk driver had a head-on with a family. I had to perform CPR on an 18-month-old boy but unfortunately he didn’t make it. I got home about 2am and woke up my three children hugged them and told them I loved them.
It happened on a road I drive down a few times a week. The family has since put a cross on the side of the road and I remember the incident every time I pass by.
What CFA training have you got the most out of?
The training at CFA is second to none and so is the support. You can’t go past training in the environment. Fire is a living, breathing thing and you have to respect it. If you’re burning, you’re learning.
The planned burning and vegetation management sector is male dominated but there’s been nothing but encouragement and complete and utter respect as I develop my skill.
What has been your volunteering highlight?
I was at the Cape Otway burn camp for the first time three years ago. Mike Evans put me on with a drip torch and that’s where I got the planned burning bug. He’s said that I have a knack with fire and reading fire. He and Ian Morrison saw something in me and have mentored me ever since.
Last year I again attended the Cape Otway Burn camp as a volunteer and was assigned the ignition commander role. Mike trusted me to choose the lighting patterns and it was very satisfying to be given that accountability and then achieve the goals.
There were career staff on my lighting crew and they were rapt and got so much out of it. They were very encouraging.
My volunteering has helped me achieve my career goals. If I hadn’t joined the brigade, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Three years ago I was brand new to planned burning and now I’m mentoring, and that’s because of the support.
What has been the highlight in your paid role?
Being entrusted to undertake the Acting Vegetation Management role. With hard work and determination, anyone can achieve their goals.
Photos by Ian Morrison