News & Media

Pride in asking for help

  • Training before working in Antarctica
  • Being presented with the National Emergency Medal

By: Leith Hillard

Category: People

  4.10 PM 4 November, 2013


Location: District 13 News

Views: 3124

Jenna Kelley has been a CFA member for almost 10 years.

She is studying emergency management on two scholarships; is a rally car co-driver and worked with champion Possum Bourne; ran a bar for Kiwis in Antarctica and rides competitively on a horse called Billy Sparklepants. That’s a lot of life experience … but nothing could have prepared her for Black Saturday.

(For other videos from CFA volunteers telling their stories click here.)

“I was in the District 13 Emergency Coordination Centre that day,” said Jenna. “By the late afternoon we were getting the overflow of Triple 0 calls from Marysville and Kinglake. It shouldn’t have happened. We weren’t trained for it.

“I was so scared of saying the wrong thing. I could hear screaming. I was telling people to not leave the car; get under a blanket; look for embers in the roof; look for spot fires when the firefront has passed.

“Some of those people didn’t make it.”

In the days following, Jenna moved to a logistics role.

“We did a debrief after every shift,” she continued, “and [Operations Manager] Dave Renkin did a post-season debrief. We were all feeling the reverberations of other people’s trauma and Dave said, ‘Don’t hesitate to talk to someone’. I got the peer support number for Frank Roach – Uncle Frank.

“We really clicked. He knew that I wanted to pull those people through the phone and get them to a place of safety. Did I do the right thing? Did I do enough? I was allowed to say whatever I was feeling and he reassured me that those feelings of helplessness are completely normal.”

In the months following, television news and newspapers, pictures of burnt-out cars or seeing other people upset would trigger vivid memories of that desperate day. For other members, the 2009 fires became the trigger to reach out and talk about their experiences of Ash Wednesday.

“It just felt safe to talk to Frank and share the emotions,” said Jenna. “Peers are normal people and it’s confidential. Peer support allows you to feel better about a situation without fear and enables you to pass it on.

“It got easier to talk about my experience over time and I began to talk to community members who went through it and they knew I understood.”

Uncle Frank resigned as a peer several months ago, but Jenna called him when her strike team’s deployment to New South Wales was cancelled.

“I was very keen to go and do something helpful,” she said. “I hate the thought of other people suffering.”

Not quite Jenna Sparklepants, but almost.

The video within this story was made by Jenna at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image during a digital storytelling workshop especially for CFA members.

Last Updated: 06 November 2013