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Stratford's Ken honoured with AFSM
Ken Baxter is extremely humble about being awarded one of the most distinguished medals in the Australian fire service, an AFSM.
“I’m very honoured. I don’t really know why I’ve been singled out, there are a lot of people that do the work around here and I haven’t done more than anyone else, but I’m honoured,” Ken said.
Ken has dedicated 57 years to CFA and been highly active in the Stratford brigade, the Avon group and at the regional level – including over 20 years on the Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria (VFBV) Committee and a member of the working group that developed the Volunteer Charter.
“I joined CFA back in the late 1950’s - I had a lot of friends and knew farmers in the area so it was something to help them out. There weren’t a lot of fires in those days,” Ken said.
“I’ve gained a lot of friendships through CFA and find satisfaction in knowing that we’ve stopped something getting burnt out or losing a lot of stock. It’s nice knowing we’re doing an important job for our community that couldn’t be done if people had to be paid.
"’ve always been with the Stratford brigade and the Stratford group (now Avon group) and was the Group Officer for a while. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great Regional Officers such as Noel Hedington and Chief Officer Euan Ferguson when he was our Regional Officer. I learnt a lot from him.”
Ken, a builder by trade, has vastly improved the Stratford Fire Station and others within the group, and has secured a number of additional firefighting vehicles for the brigade over the years.
“I’ve seen big changes in the equipment we’ve got - from Austin tankers to what we’ve got now with the advent of slip on units and things like that - there’s just no comparison.”
Ken has worked tirelessly to ensure smooth cooperation and interoperability between local CFA brigades, groups and Department of Environment and Primary Industries units.
“I’m a great believer in working with DSE [now DEPI] and everyone helping one another. They helped me set up these Tactical Exercised Without Troops I’m running, which we used to call cloth map exercises, and have been really supportive.”
Ken developed and regularly runs the realistic training sessions now known as – ‘Tactical Exercises Without Troops’ (TEWTS).
“I’ve believed in the mission command philosophy from the start. The people on the ground know what the fire’s doing and what needs to be done. We use every incident as a training exercise - learn from our mistakes and utilise the ‘command and control’ approach at the local level - even if it’s just to send messages back to the group,” Ken said.
“It’s important to utilise your people so they’re not sitting idle until a big fire comes through, and they’ve forgotten what they were supposed to do. Even if it’s a small fire – we sectorise it and get the group to organise the resources and tucker, so the people that aren’t on the fireground have a good useful purpose.
“We’ve got some good people with a lot more fireground knowledge than I had at their age because CFA is a lot more organised now. We used to just jump on a truck and get stuck into the fire with some beaters and water.
“Our people are a lot better trained than we were, with minimum skills and other programs we have now. It is time consuming for them though – they’re more dedicated now than how things were 30 years ago. I’m very proud of our people and the effort they put in.”
Ken is still an active firefighter and also assists in the communications room. He’s heavily involved in planning, training and facilities committees and is a representative with VFBV and the local Municipal Fire Prevention Committee.
His careful mentoring and strong practical leadership has influenced greatly the development of many emerging leaders.
“We’ve got a great lot of young people and that’s the main reason I stay here. If I can pass on something to them it’s good. I used to run scout troops for 40 odd years – you can do a lot of good with young people if you help them along the way,” Ken said.
“My sons have both been CFA members, one still is. Overall my wife Dawn is pretty happy with what I do – she puts up with a lot! When you get to my age, 76, you need interests - you don’t want to just sit around home and rot.”