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Woman behind the mask
***Deb Azzopardi, CFA volunteer is being profiled as part of a special series focusing on volunteers to celebrate National Volunteer Week May 12-18.
Epping Brigade’s Deb Azzopardi married young and had kids young, but never let go of two things that had stuck in her mind as a girl growing up in England – scuba diving and fighting fires in a brigade. She does both, and has dived all over the world.
As fate would have it, Deb’s marriage took her to Australia, and as soon as her children were teenagers she jumped on the opportunity to do both of those things. “I thought to myself, right – I must do scuba and I must join a fire brigade,” said the Epping volunteer, one of the members being profiled on this site during National Volunteer Week.
Like many people who are passionate about volunteering, Deb fits an impressive amount into her life. As well as working part time as a book-keeper and helping out with her seven grandchildren she instructs at All About Scuba in Campbellfield, umpires high level netball once a week and volunteers in both operational and non-operational capacities for Epping.
Deb’s scuba experience feeds into her firefighting skills which often involves putting on the mask and air tank (breathing apparatus) required when entering a smoke-filled building.
“It’s not a foreign thing to me,” she said. "Even past the age of 50, I don’t mind at all. A lot of people don’t like having their face covered but for me it’s fine. Of course, whether its scuba or breathing apparatus, you’re only as good as your buddy. The heavy lifting will always come down to the person with the most oxygen left.”
Deb also uses this kind of gear during school visits to help children become familiar with what firefighters might look like if they come into a home during a house fire. “I tell them that we might look scary, but we are there to help so it’s really important that they call out. They might be hiding under a table and if they don’t call out we will never see them.”
As a scuba instructor, Deb loves taking people out on their first dives and seeing their reactions to the world that opens up.
She’s good fortune to dive all over the world in locations as exotic as Fiji, Vanuatu or Brunei. But she reckons that some of the best sites are closer to home. “In this country we have some of the best dives in the world. Not many local realise that we have submarines in the bay in Melbourne and people will travel from miles away to see them.
As a person with a willingness to take on new things, Deb has made the most of the opportunities at CFA, which are first and foremost about contributing but also about developing as a person. She spent a considerable amount of time last year training as a peer to support other members through tough times or after a traumatic experience.
At the time of writing Deb had just passed the test for her Medium Rigid truck license meaning she’s ready to start CFA-specific training.
“If you’d told me even two months ago that I’d be getting my truck license I would have said you were crazy,” she said. “But at my brigade we need more drivers, and my captain asked me to do it, so here I am.”
When Deb first joined CFA about 13 years ago her husband felt a little put out that she would drop everything and head out to a fire call in the middle of dinner.
“Eventually I suggested that he go and join SES, which he did. So now he gets exactly what it’s about.”