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Fires at home, itchy feet for recruit

  • Ben Todd (right) with his father Alex Todd (left) and great uncle John Ballantine

“It felt pretty ordinary being here learning how to be a firefighter when your joint was on fire,” said newly qualified career firefighter recruit Ben Todd, 26, who started his first posting today at Geelong City Fire Brigade after graduating last Friday.

Waiting for a photo before the start of formal proceedings at the graduation ceremony at Fiskville training college, Ben is catching up with his great uncle John Ballantine, who only three days before had battled the Lake Rowan fire when it came through his property.

“No worries, it’s all still there except the grass,” says John, a long-time CFA volunteer and member at Almonds, playing it down. He left at 5am to make the journey down for Ben’s graduation, not a simple matter with road closures in the area.  

The Wodonga West Fire occurred just as Ben was finishing up the final week of an intensive 16-week basic training recruit course.  Being a former volunteer member at Wodonga, he followed its progress pretty closely. “I got a lot of info from home, “he said. “Not much from him though, he wouldn’t answer his phone,” pointing to his father, Alex, another a CFA stalwart

That’s fair enough since Alex Todd is Deputy Group Officer for the Wodonga Group of Brigades and had also been ‘a bit’ busy serving both as a Sector Command and back at the ‘div comm’ (divisional command facility). On this day however, which he has attended in full dress uniform, Alex Todd’s most important role is as Ben’s father. He is incredibly proud.

It’s fair to say that firefighting runs in Ben’s veins, and both his paternal and maternal grandfathers were also volunteer firefighters. Ben served at Wodonga between the ages of 16 and 21 with a break in the middle while he lived in Melbourne (working as a plumber and in the mining construction industry), but by making firefighting a career he is taking the family passion one step further.

 “Ben learnt a trade, and did a few different things for a while, but this [career firefighting] was always on his mind,” said Alex.

While following in the family footsteps is important, mostly it’s about the community. “It’s the feeling of satisfaction from helping people in need and being able to solve people’s problems no matter how big or small,” says Ben.  

“It will be a different environment at Geelong and I’m looking forward to it.”

Ben counts himself lucky to have got through the highly competitive career firefighter application process first time around where others have made several attempts. The course was tough but rewarding.

“It was good meeting 17 new guys that are all like-minded, and good to work up a new skill set.”

“There are many aspects of this job that need enormous amount of knowledge and skill to master, all of which take many hours or months of study and endless hands on training to be proficient in there operation.”

Alex Todd currently works for CFA in one of the recently-established Brigade Sustainability Coordinator roles. As a volunteer he has been a CFA member for more than 30 years.

The West Wodonga fire was one of more than 350 fires that started from a band of lightning that moved across the North East early last week, taking many by surprise when it flared up on Tuesday.

“It seemed quite benign but then we looked up and the hills were on fire,” says Alex.

Last Updated: 24 December 2014