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Russell Gray AFSM
Russell Gray received the Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM) for his dedication to helping fellow CFA members and improving their equipment over 43 years.
Russell says he had no choice about joining up. “I was born into it. My mother always said I was born a firefighter.”
His father Peter Gray was a CFA Deputy Chief Officer in the 1960s and the first Australian recipient of the AFSM’s predecessor, the Queen’s Fire Service Medal, which he received in 1969.
“I think the first thing I can remember was about the fire brigade. We had fire equipment lying around the house,” he said.
Russell received the AFSM partly for his tireless efforts improving CFA equipment, products and techniques. He’s known for his uncompromising thoroughness in testing new equipment, to ensure it’s tough and reliable enough to let firefighters do their job while keeping them safe. He’s worked on everything from tankers, to hoses and ladders and admits to being a little pig-headed when it comes to improving gear.
“I see a problem and I say ‘bugger it, I’m going to change this, I’m going to fix it’,” he said.
Now a rescue instructor, Russell describes his CFA career as “one big learning curve”, from starting at Springvale to his years spent at Dandenong Brigade.
“You never, ever knew. Every day something abnormal would happen. I think I was very fortunate there,” he said.
Russell has also received the AFSM for his work mentoring CFA members, something he’s always enjoyed.
“You see them blossom. They’re raw … then you see them go through their career and they get better and better,” he said.
He credits the help and advice others gave him for his decision to become an instructor.
“I’ve been very, very fortunate to have some terrific people to mentor me. I really have been blessed,” he said.
For Russell the highlights of his decades with CFA have been the camaraderie and dedication firefighters show.
“Just to see the community mindedness. It’s always amazed me, it’s always given me a lot of pride," he said.
“The humanity of it.“
He’s also taken great pride in the three Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Championships when he coached Dandenong to victory; and satisfaction at the many successful campaigns against factory fires, bushfires and other blazes.
“Locking in a fire. Just using your training and experience to take it down quickly,” he said.
Just don’t tell him he rescued someone.
“Rescue is an overused word. You grab a person out of a building or car and they’re still alive. That’s an amazing feeling," he said.
“But to me that’s part of my job. That’s what we’re trained for.”