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Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?
Every firefighter remembers their first call-out, but even ten years down the track, volunteer Rod Barford, profiled as part of a special series for National Volunteer Week, has more reason than most to recall his first day – it was a whopper.
The Phillip Island member had only just finished up his minimum skills when his pager went off for the first time – for what would be the first of four incidents back-to-back.
“I received operational clearance on the Friday and my first four call outs were all on the following Monday,” he said.
The first call was to a gas leak on a plumber’s ute, which was in a mechanical workshop at the time. It had to be dragged outside into a vacant allotment next door.
“Just after the flare off started, we were paged to grass and scrub fire at Cape Woolamai.
“The brigade rounded up the grass fire fairly quickly and headed back to the workshop at San Remo.
“But there was no time to check up on the flare off – a fire alarm was going off at a nursing home.”
Soon enough they were on their way.
After that was wrapped up Rod was finally able to head home. His house was located a whole 350 metres from the fire station.
Not long after sitting down, the pager went off a fourth time – sending him running back to the station.
This call-out was the most serious of the day – a house fire that started from a pot of oil sucked up through the range hood and into the roof of a two-storey family home.
One firefighter sustained an airway injury.
“Along with a couple of others, including our Captain Garry, I was first on scene,” Rod said.
“I’d only just completed my wildfire training and I didn’t know much about house fires but I had learnt to use the pump so they got me going on that.”
The three family members home at the time attempted to extinguish the fire with a blanket, but the fire had already taken hold.
The mother and the two children were left with burns injuries.
Rod had wondered what he got himself into.
“It was like ‘welcome to the CFA volunteer role’ – and it wasn’t what I’d been expecting,” he said.
“Like most CFA volunteers, I’d come into it with visions of bushfires and grassfires.
“But then I quickly realised with being an urban brigade, the reality was that we were doing everything from bin fires, to rescuing wildlife from power lines, to all kinds of house fires.”
Rod, now 65, joined the brigade off the back of the 2006 National Park fires.
“I’d always felt an urge to help out, but with the kids and a business, I just didn’t have the time.
“I remember feeling helpless just sitting back watching the fires on TV, and with the kids all grown up, thought, now is the time to do it.
“Along the way I’ve often thought to myself – why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”
Ten years later, Rod is a mainstay of the brigade having served at incidents including Black Saturday fires and rising up through the ranks to become part of the brigade’s leadership group.
A knee injury suffered at a house fire a year ago has seen him scale back on operational duties.
“For a time I was one of the most prolific responders, probably because I ran my own business which gave me more flexibility to respond.”
Over those ten years Rod has also seen a sharp increase in both visitors and permanent residents on Phillip Island.
“Ten years ago there were 6,500 residents and now that is up at 10,000, so it’s a growing population. With more than 200 callouts per year we are one of the busiest volunteer brigades in the district.”
The theme for National Volunteer Week 2016 (9-14 May) is ‘Give Happy, Live Happy’. According to Volunteering Australia, research shows that volunteers live happier and healthier lives.