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Greg’s inspiring volunteer vision
Greg Mallett has taken his volunteering spirit around Australia, starting in the Tasmanian Country Fire Service in 1984 then through the Queensland Fire Service and the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
He became a member of CFA’s Broadford Fire Brigade in 1997 and took on a range of roles from 2nd lieutenant through to training officer.
“I enjoyed passing knowledge along and was just generally enjoying my volunteering,” said Greg.
Four years ago everything changed dramatically when, over nine weeks, Greg went from having full vision to only being able to tell day from night. The previously undiagnosed diabetes-linked condition clogged the blood vessels in his retinas and caused them to die off with scar tissue forming.
“It was very aggressive,” continued Greg. “I had six surgeries across those nine weeks but it was gone.”
Greg has been nominated for an Inspire Awards®, an initiative of the Funds in Court (of the Supreme Court of Victoria) with the support of the Transport Accident Commission, Women with Disabilities Victoria and the Portland House Foundation.
The Victorian awards recognise a person 18 years or older who has a disability and is well respected in their field of work/interest and community.
This year CFA has been given its own award category – Best Achievement Award in the Country Fire Authority.
Amid the rapid life adjustments, the then-45-year-old was determined to keep up his job as chief engineer at Accor Hotels, but how to get from Broadford to St Kilda in Melbourne every day?
Enter Vision Australia. Greg’s wife Tracey – who he met at the fire brigade – put him on the train for the one hour 40 minute trip each day to Southern Cross Station. There he was met by one of their mobility officers who taught Greg how to get off the train and on the tram amid the noise and chaos of rush hour.
“It was a huge achievement,” said Greg.
“Initially I didn’t know how much sight I’d have. My work role was modified but I was still doing about 80 to 90 per cent of my job.
“Six months in I was made redundant, but early retirement meant I wanted to do more with CFA; I wanted to stay involved. I joked that I could still do BA because they can’t see anything and neither could I.
“I’d always had a bit to do with comms and I met Ops at Seymour to work out the options. District 12 and the group have been amazing and I’ve headed down the comms track.”
Greg trained for a role in the incident control centre and once again Vision Australia got involved, helping Greg navigate the train to Seymour and his way around the District 12 office. He can plan ahead the day before a total fire ban or a bad day to be on that train.
“I’ve got very good knowledge of the district,” he said, “so I recognise when vehicles need to move around and step up. I track all vehicles and how many people are on them. I’ve got a voice-recognition laptop with a reader so I can read the majority of what I need.”
Operations Manager Rob van Dorsser nominated Greg for the Inspire Award® and is hugely impressed by his contribution and the difference it’s making to the incident management team.
“I see it as a measure of Greg’s character that, despite the newness of his disability, he has been able to find a way to contribute to the community in a positive way again,” said Rob. “Comms can be a hard-to-fill role so he’s really filling a need.”
Greg has recently transferred to Clonbinane Fire Brigade where Captain Ross Hibbert is warmly encouraging of members in non-operational roles.
Meanwhile Greg is exploring Vision Australia’s trade, woodwork and metalwork courses and, with a background in building, he’s learned how to use power tools without vision.
“Without Vision Australia, people would be lost,” said Greg. “There are so many day-to-day things to help like liquid level indicators for making a cup of tea.
“I use a cane outside the house but not in, and my young nieces have learned to not leave things lying around on the floor.”
The Inspire Awards ceremony is on Wednesday 26 April 2017.