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Lara Fire Brigade farewells life member
Lara Fire Brigade prepares to farewell a significant part of the brigade’s history, Neil Branch. Neil is the longest-serving member and life member of the brigade and will be farewelled at a service at Macgregor in Queensland on Friday.
Neil Branch, the second oldest of six firefighting brothers, was a significant member of both the Lara Fire Brigade and Lara community with generations of the one family protecting the Lara community from fire.
Neil’s official service records indicate he has almost 70 years of service to the Lara Fire Brigade although previous interviews and stories about Neil document his service commencing much earlier than official records. With firefighting in his blood, Neil was just finishing primary school when he first drove a truck, carrying water for his dad who was instrumental in setting up the Lara Brigade’s headquarters well before the Lara Fire Brigade was formed in 1939 and registered with the Country Fire Brigades Board.
Neil’s early driving history later went on to to assist Neil when obtaining his licence with the local police officer acknowledging Neil’s driving record dating back to 12 years old.
In an interview following the 40th anniversary of the 1969 tragic Lara fire, Neil recollected the day in which 18 lives and many homes, buildings and livestock were lost.
Neil said he never panicked in the face on any blaze, no matter how big, until he lost contact with his family during that fateful day on 8 January later to learn that courageous neighbours had pulled his wife Nancy and their children to safety.
In addition to being one of Lara's longest-serving operational members, Neil served 12 years on the Brigade Management Team, many years doing fire and equipment maintenance assisting the brigade financially, and he educated hundreds of kids about fire safety at schools and kindergartens where he was affectionately known as ‘Grandpa Neil’.
In a fitting tribute to Neil’s dedication to Lara Fire Brigade, in 2012 the brigade’s pumper was named in Neil’s honour with his picture proudly displayed on the naming plaque at Lara Fire Station.
Neil’s memory will continue to play a significant part of Lara Fire Brigade’s history through the contributory service he provided to both CFA and the Lara community.
Neil will be sadly missed by many in the CFA Community.