News & Media

Fire Star Virtues as a brigade guide

By: Patrick O'Brien

  10.00 AM 23 March, 2012

Views: 5629

Thanks to all who have responded to the various large and small incidents we had across the Region this Fire Danger Period. Thank you also to all Groups and brigades that stepped up their preparedness levels, readied Strike Teams and manned Group HQs or Div Coms on TFB or Severe FDR days.

We are remembering the situation we were in in February and March last year. The outstanding efforts by individuals, brigades and Groups across LMR as well as all those from outside LMR who helped, in response to the major floods were, at the time and have continued to be since, an inspiration to all CFA members in the Region.

The OMs of the three Districts will shortly commence the distribution of certificates of recognition to every brigade and Group in the Region. Every brigade and Group contributed, collectively or through individual members, to the flood response effort in some way or another. Please consider displaying your certificate proudly.

I want to share a story of one volunteer's recent experiences and reflections. "Once upon a time a CFA volunteer, to spare him any embarrassment we'll call him Fred, was driving northward along a back road in Central Victoria when, on rounding a corner, he came upon a motor vehicle accident scene. In rapid succession he observed the sheared-off base of a concrete power pole on his right, high voltage lines lying along the right hand side of the road in long grass and across the road surface to the other side, a tip truck on its side in the spoon drain on the left and the remains of the power pole and cross arm lying behind it.

Skid marks on the road surface and a big score mark in the dirt on the left hand side of the road gave clues as to what had happened. Another tip truck and trailer, about 80 metres further on, was in the act of positioning itself across the road to stop traffic approaching from the other direction.

A local farmer was leaning over his fence dealing with a small but vigorous fire which the power lines had started in the grass on the road verge next to his property. A light and steady south-easterly was pushing the fire in both directions along the roadside. It was clear that the accident had just occurred.

Having stopped his own vehicle in the middle of the road and activated his hazard lights Fred avoided the power lines and went over to check on the driver of the rolled truck who had escaped the heavily damaged cabin via the empty windscreen aperture. It appeared that the tip truck had hit the power pole head on and then swerved across the road. After a brief conversation with the drivers of both trucks, Fred confirmed that the emergency services and the power company had been alerted, donned his wildfire PPC and provided first aid to the injured driver. It so happened that the driver of the other tip truck was a senior CFA volunteer, in a neighbouring region, who Fred knew.

The roadside fire had progressed towards the farmer's house and sheds, a further 80 metres along the road, and was threatening these. Some neighbours or friends came along to help him deal with this and a bit of shouting ensued. The local CFA brigade's tanker arrived on scene, near the rolled truck, observed the downed power lines and decided, because of the steep sides of the spoon drain and the power lines across the road, to move back about 100 metres to enter the property of the farmer. The crew appeared to be an all female one.

While this had been happening an older fellow, probably in his late 60s or even early 70s, and dressed in khaki overalls walked up to the rolled vehicle, the injured driver and Fred in his turnout gear. This fellow had come from the vicinity of the grassfire next to the farmer's house and sheds and was quite agitated, angry and impatient. At first he shouted loudly to the just arrived tanker crew to get a move on; using a number of obscenities to emphasise his message. When it became obvious that the tanker crew had to use bolt cutters to cut a lock on a paddock gate, and were going to be slightly delayed, he began to shout and swear loudly at them referring to them in extremely obscene and offensive language and describing them as useless.

Fred, who was standing next to this fellow, identified himself and said, "Hey mate, lay off the language will you? They're doing their best." The angry man continued in the same vein. Fred became impatient with the angry bloke and said, "Look mate, stop that or I'll ask the police to arrest you."

Fred, although no legal eagle, dredged up some faint recollections of the Powers of the Chief Officer under s. 30. (g) of the CFA Act. S.30 (g) defines the Powers of Officers at Fires, which are delegated from the Chief Officer under s. 28 of the Act, to a CFA "Officer" [i.e. member] to "...order to withdraw, and [in the event of a failure or a refusal to withdraw] remove or direct any member of any fire brigade or any member of the police force present at the scene of the fire to remove, any persons who interfere by their presence or otherwise with the operations of any brigade...."

The angry bloke offered some gratuitous advice to Fred and replied that the police wouldn't know about what he'd said unless Fred "dobbed" him in. He also told Fred that the performance of the tanker crew and Fred's remonstration were typical of the reasons he had left CFA. Fred, for his part, was quite surprised that this character, who was behaving so badly, had actually been a CFA member. He was also amazed at the childish reference to being dobbed in. The angry bloke remained standing there for a few more minutes trying to stare Fred down and then moved away.

An early model white ute had driven up while this was going on and another, older, fellow leant out of his window, identified himself as the Group Officer, and said to Fred: "Having a few problems with so and so? He was like that for 30 years in the brigade and Group. Every time we had a fire he'd lose it." This was followed by the driver of the undamaged truck, Fred's acquaintance, who also came up to talk to Fred. Fred told him about the angry bloke and what he had said. The other driver replied that he too knew the angry bloke but there was not much that could be done about his behaviour.

Two other CFA tankers had arrived on the other side of the accident scene by then and a brigade captain, who was with one of them, took control of the incident. All three tankers quickly dealt with the grassfire. Once the police arrived and it was confirmed that an ambulance was on its way, Fred decided to leave. Doffing his gear and taking the detour around the accident scene he headed home. On the way he reflected on what had happened.

Fred thought about the angry bloke's behaviour and considered that different folks responded in different ways to stress. For his part, it was important not to be surprised by this and to have a strategy to deal with it at any incident. From the comments of others at the MVA scene, though, it seemed that this was a long-established pattern of behaviour from the angry bloke. It had become a habit. Fred considered how this might have happened and came to the conclusion that it probably arose from a combination of an obvious lack of self-control exercised by the angry bloke compounded by the fact that no-one, at least in CFA circles, appeared to have pulled him up on it. In other words, he had permission to behave the way he did whenever he felt like losing control! The angry bloke had developed a habit of bad behaviour and those around him in CFA had developed a habit of tolerating bad behaviour.

Fred usually tried to adopt a balanced approach to problems. Being at an age where he hoped that he might have attained a small amount of wisdom, he accepted that things were often grey, rather than black and white. He did feel, though, that in this case, he could justifiably allow himself, without any qualification at all, to completely condemn the angry bloke's language and behaviour. Quite clearly, as far as Fred was concerned, this was just another form of bullying. To put it mildly, Fred, who was usually a mild bloke, really, really didn't like bullying behaviour. Such behaviour was just not acceptable in any way or at any time, particularly in a CFA team, he thought.

Fred could only imagine what volunteering in that sort of environment would be like for those CFA members who might have been the object of the bad behaviour or had to witness it. He felt convinced that it was probably very unhappy on occasion and that it was likely, at the least, to be personally demeaning and stressful. He felt a great sympathy for the specific brigade members, particularly the crew of the first tanker, who had rapidly, competently and safely got the tanker on the road and dealt with the incident, in the middle of the day, only to be abused for their efforts.

Initially, he couldn't understand why anyone, or any team, would put up with this. Then he remembered other examples of bad or unlawful behaviour, including bullying, harassment and even assault, which he was aware of happening in CFA from time to time. Now, he knew that the same things obviously happened in broader society, and that CFA couldn't be immune from them. However, he recalled that CFA has some very clear values, in the form of the Fire Star Virtues, which should guide all members' behaviour.

Although not regarding himself as a philosopher, or perfect in any way, Fred summed up his reflections as follows:

• all CFA members should value our own contributions to our communities;
• we should always possess self-respect and justified self-esteem;
• we need constantly to keep in mind that we can only work effectively in cooperative, respectful and well-led teams and that our teams, when they are good, are always worth defending;
• we should always insist on adherence by all team members to the Fire Star Virtues, without compromise;
• we should always strive to act with courage;
• we all have a leadership role to play;
• some folks just aren't cut out to be volunteers or work in teams. Maybe we would be doing them a favour if we point this out; and
• be prepared for the fact that everyone knows everyone else in rural communities!

You and your team may wish to reflect on this story, as Fred did. No doubt you will come up with your own assessments.

Courage and wisdom, all.

Patrick O'Brien

Last Updated: 10 December 2015