News & Media

Faces of CFA: Ken Calder

By: Faces of CFA

Category: People

  1.02 PM 3 May, 2017


Location: General

Views: 2449

What binds CFA members is the common goal to protect lives and property, but you’re a diverse bunch. Every member has a story and Faces of CFA introduces you to just some of those stories.

Ken Calder, Wareek / Bung Bong Fire Brigade

What is your brigade role?

I’m a firefighter and past president.

Why did you join CFA?

To render community service and compete in team events.

Starting as a junior in the Dunolly Urban Brigade, I became a member in 1962 and was part of the competition team attending state championships and almost winning the prestigious two-man marshal event, having picked up many prizes at local competitions.

I was the inaugural secretary of the Dunolly District Fire Brigades Group at a time when radios were introduced to firefighting. The old Pye two-way radio sets were unreliable and coverage was a huge problem just like today’s mobile phone coverage in some rural areas.

I then entered to the army under national service call-up and afterwards transferred to Wareek/Bung Bong brigade.

I have faithfully served my brigade, attending countless fires, road accidents and joining taskforces away from home. Not that I have served the CFA for recognition but, when that recognition is due, then it is appreciated.

What is your favourite CFA truck and why?

My favourite truck was the ISUZU because of the way it handled, the reliability, manoeuvrability and ease of driving.

How have the CFA vehicles changed over your time as a member?

Having helped to run in three brand new fire trucks issued to those brigades I’ve been a member of, I think I’m qualified to answer this question.

Today’s trucks have developed to suit the trying conditions, whereas trucks like the old Austins didn’t provide safe firefighting as they used to vaporise the fuel in the carburettor at the firefront and become undriveable. They were, in fact, an English-made truck for English conditions and totally unsuited to extreme fire danger days.

We have however gone from the sublime to the ridiculous by placing anti-pollution gear on a fire truck which slows it down. This seems to defeat the purpose of getting to a fire ASAP to stop great quantities of pollution being emitted.

With today’s trucks, much emphasis is placed on firefighter safety. Sadly the water load is reduced thus causing more danger from running out of water during the early stages of fighting any fire. This is overcome somewhat by dispatching more trucks to any fire then turning them back should the initial strike force bring the fire under control. 

What are some of your most memorable strike team experiences?

The huge Arnold fire in the sixties while local as a member at Dunolly was memorable. This was my first event of this magnitude and we nearly lost a brand new truck after suffering a burn over. We all escaped unharmed, physically anyway, but members of Bridgwater brigade were not so fortunate.

A fire at Avoca was also memorable because I left home when the fire started and did not return for over 24 hours. My wife and young family were left home to fend for themselves, not knowing where I was or whether I was still in one piece.

Having taken over as guide for a task force from an outside district, I used my local knowledge to ensure the team was made as useful as possible.

This brought home to me the sacrifices not only volunteers make but also their families by them serving their communities.

While the Dandenong fires were memorable, driving a two-wheel drive Austin in those hills, the recent Kinglake fires will never be eradicated from my mind because of the devastation wrought by those catastrophic fires.

While the day [Black Saturday] was one of the worst this country has faced and this fire became unstoppable, the wind change brought absolute devastation to a huge area.

As the sun came up, we could see that the ground was white, not black, owing to the intensity of the heat, and trees were burnt back to trunks only with all branches gone.

In those worst areas burnt, very little was smouldering the morning after because the fire was so hot that everything had burnt already.

During times away on taskforces, my own farm and family have been neglected thus costing me dearly. After spending time away fatigue is a big issue, so a volunteer’s own job suffers.

What is your favourite thing about CFA?

That volunteers are prepared to fight the fires without pay and without working set hours while putting their communities first.

Do you know a CFA member other members would love to read about? Complete this question-and-answer form with them, adding plenty of detail about their time in CFA and the role they play in their community. Please then submit it with a photo so we can feature them as our member of the week.

Last Updated: 04 May 2017