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Free to fly
To celebrate National Volunteer Week (13-19 May), CFA is saying “thanks a million” to its volunteers, families and employers for everything they do. This week we will feature a series of profile stories to highlight the great work and diversity of our volunteer members.
When the north-east of Victoria is affected by fire, flood or other natural disasters, Peter Leach is a man in demand.
As a highly-trained member of CFA’s aircraft unit and one of the region’s Air Observers, he can be called on at any moment to manage the logistics behind a fire bombing operation or go up in a plane or chopper to gather critical aerial data.
And as a senior volunteer with Wangaratta Fire Brigade he might find himself out on the back of a truck or in the Incident Control Centre during major incidents.
But this balancing act is only made possible by the support of Australian Munitions, and its parent company Thales Australia, where Peter works as a Fire and Emergency Systems Coordinator. Thales employs around 40 CFA volunteers at sites in Benalla and Mulwala (just over the NSW border from Yarrawonga).
Support of volunteers is a core part of the multinational company’s ‘good neighbour’ philosophy, not only in Victoria but interstate and internationally. The company in Australia actively supports its volunteers both informally and formally, with official policies clearly recognising their contribution to local communities across the country.
Peter realises the importance of his employer’s willingness to release volunteers for operational duties.
“It’s very important – critical,” he said.
“Firefighters can be away for extended periods if they are deployed on a strike team… and we can only do this with the support of our employer.
“Especially for people like myself and Ian Lyons [also a member of the Aircraft Unit], they know how important we are in filling specialised roles where there are limited personnel available.
“CFA has invested a lot in my training – I’m well aware that it’s no use doing that for someone who is not available, so your employer has to be party to that.
There are also benefits for the company, which as a Major Hazard facility maintains its own Emergency Response Team, having employees with broader CFA training is a real bonus.
“Next week I’ll be on a course at Fiskville – the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment – and that will give me the kind of skills I can take back to my job.
“Thales has its own Emergency Response Team training facility which includes things like breathing apparatus tunnels that have been utilised by CFA and SES.
“In the past specialist equipment belonging to the company has been taken out to incidents in the community. So I’d say it’s a really strong mutual arrangement that’s good for everyone,” he said.
Peter’s role as an Air Observer involves going up in the air to survey areas affected by fire or flood, relaying information to ground crews. He played a major role during the 2012 floods and even assisted with plotting the recent tornado that travelled all the way from Cobram to Bundalong.
Aircraft Officers coordinate logistics behind operations involving aircraft such as firebombing or reconnaissance.
Thales in Australia is part of a leading international electronics and systems group serving the defence, aerospace and space, security, and transport markets in Australia and throughout the world.
Thales Australia is a trusted partner of the Australian Defence Force and is also present in commercial sectors ranging from air traffic management to security systems and services.
- Story by Sonia Maclean