News & Media

My first year with CFA

By: Michael Nardella

  5.42 PM 24 May, 2010

Views: 5889

What a coincidence. It is just one year since I joined the CFA. My official joining date is the 17th May 2009.

My introduction to the CFA was the February 2009 Fires, like many others, and although being a firefighter was one of the last things I thought I would ever do, my opinion was changed.

Whilst I wasn't in Toolangi at the Family farm on Feb 7, I was able to get through on the Monday morning after trying for half the day on the Sunday. We came through the Road blocks on the Melba Highway and through the obvious devastation and still burning trees and were stopped on the Mt Slide / Kinglake turnoff by Police that were surprised by our arrival as they were then evacuating the area. They set up an escort for the half a dozen or so cars and advised us that if we wanted to continue do so now. The convey left and we travelled onto Toolangi Township.

We arrived at our Farm to find that the Fire had burnt around much of the township and had burnt up from south of our place and the trees towards the bottom were still on fire. The property below was burnt through, although the old house was saved.

DSE arrived to cut a number of control lines through the property in anticipation of fire as our property was a crucial step to the Town centre. We setup to defend and later that day a grass fire came up through the property. We were lucky to have a couple of CFA trucks arrive at the point and put the fire out just before it hit our sheds and the next door neighbours house. The next few days we were on high alert and cut off, with the township was cut off from the outside world. We were fortunate to have very generous neighbours and other residents that were willing to help as power was out for 10 days.

Anyway, I felt the need to help others and went around to the Toolangi Fire Brigade and asked how we could join. Eventually we got our paperwork through and the journey began.

Toolangi members were most welcoming and being a small rural brigade, equipment is fairly basic and in short supply. No fancy tankers or changing rooms here. We managed to get a lend of some PPC and starting hands on training. There is no reticulated water in the area so numerous trips down to the Yea River provided drafting opportunities.

We managed to join a combined group at Badgers Creek and the many weeks of Monday and alternate Wednesday began. Theory was interspersed with practical training and under t5he watchful eye of Nic Rodway (and other BC volunteers) making sure we did it "the right way". During this time we (my son Tristan also joined) also attended training on Sunday mornings as well as alternate Thursday. Yes, there was a lot going on for a few months. I felt that the training at Toolangi put us a little ahead of the other recruits.

Eventually, I finally qualified as a Firefighter on the 14th December, but continued for a few weeks at Badger Creek for some extra training. The big difference between stations such as Badgers Creek and Toolangi, is the large new station and the fancy new Tanker. They also have something we don't - hydrants. And, to top it off, the water pressure there is huge. What a difference! I have to admit to blowing a couple of hoses during training.

At that time there was predictions of a worse summer that last year, but whilst I was qualified, I had no gear. The wait began with various parts of the PPC arriving with me eventually getting full set a month or so ago. Pagers are another thing, and still waiting to see if one can be found. In the meantime, I am getting call out message via SMS, not ideal but better than nothing.

As we know, the season turned out much quieter than expected, so the opportunities for call-outs was low. I put my hand up when we were invited to assist the local DSE on some control burns in the township and managed to attend two of those, from starting briefing to blacking out. Valuable experience. The meals afterwards were also most welcome as we worked into the early evening. I don't know if the DSE guys are tougher than us, or maybe they have damaged lungs, but myself and the other new recruit donned our goggles and masked due the heavy smoke as it was impossible to proceed without them. Maybe, they just didn't quite get the smoke we did? I wasn't going to ask.

I am till going to regular training on Thursday nights and Sunday morning and gradually finding out all the things that a CFA volunteer does.

My first turnoff came the other day, just as we were packing up after training. It was a Motor car accident / Rescue and I was able to get on the truck As we have an old truck I was in the ROPS. Certainly an interesting experience in the dark of night at high speed. Must comment Max on his excellent driving.

After some misdirection, we eventually arrived on scene to a car on its side across the Mt Slide road, narrowly missed by a truck coming the other way. All the services arrived and my duties were manning the pump and hose work. The driver was taken off by ambulance with what seemed like a head injury and some strange behaviour which include taking all his clothes off. Very strange indeed, as it is particularly cold on the mountain. Eventually the car was loaded up and my job was to hose off the road after removal of the accident debris. We packed up and went back to the station.

As it was my first call out, as well as another volunteer, peer support was called in and we had a chat. I was particularly impressed by this as I have seen first-hand people in work situations being left without any support in times of great stress. In one case they were told to go home and talk to their budgie.

During the year I also organised, with only a few days notice, a talk by the Elvis Pilot, Stuart Wilde and provided an article for CFAConnect having joined very early on. "We shared the Dream in Toolangi."

Well that's my year. A lot learned , but a lot more to learn, but in an environment where the Toolangi Brigade members provide support and guidance.

Michael Nardella

Firefighter Toolangi RFS

Last Updated: 10 December 2015