Lachie Gales – helping people to do their best
Wangaratta Deputy Group Officer Lachie Gales became a Level 3 incident controller by working his way up through the fireground leadership roles.
“I joined CFA as a volunteer firefighter in 1986 and I was lucky enough to have people like Stewart Kreltszheim, Peter Creak and Paul King to mentor me in the role,” Lachie said.
“I’d be quite happy on the back of a truck chasing grassfires, but I do appreciate that this is the kind of role that’s not for everybody and if I can make a positive contribution in the role, then I should.”
Lachie (pictured receiving his accreditation) has been an accredited Level 3 incident controller for five years and said the role is about consequence management.
“A Level 3 job, which we saw last summer, has the potential to have statewide impacts. Level 3 incident control teams are made up of people from a range of areas and agencies and with a vast amount of experience.
“While Level 3 control teams often get criticised when things don’t go as well as they ought to, it’s never because people aren’t doing their best. My role is often around making sure people get every opportunity to do their best, making an atmosphere where members feel they can bring what they know and contribute.”
Lachie said he will always remember the 2019 Black Summer fires.
“I was the incident controller on the first three nights in Walwa,” Lachie said. “The first night was an enormously fluid situation, where the fire moved across mountainous terrain like no one had ever seen before.
“We had a fire prediction that proved to be accurate. It predicted we would have fire in Corryong in the early hours of the next morning and at the time we didn’t have nearly enough resources to protect the town,” Lachie added. “We had to make a Code One call to get members out of bed from over 100 kilometres away in Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga to bring strike teams in.
“They got there at dawn in the nick of time. It was the right call and I remember that morning when I was released just how emotionally drained I felt throughout the whole thing.
“You don’t make those decisions on your own; an incident control team makes them together.
“I guess that’s the challenge for the incident controller – to make decisions from an imperfect set of information and get it right.
“We need more volunteers to step up into these roles because they bring knowledge of what happens on the fireground.”
For Lachie there are many reasons he continues to be an incident controller.
“It’s not onerous for me to give up my time because I’ve gotten so much out of the training and personal development. It has benefited both my personal life and my career.
“The first formal CFA bushfire training I had back in the 80s was from Graham Healy. He was at the very start of my journey and he made such an impression on me. So now, viewing Graham as some sort of peer is just staggering to me.
“I feel blessed that people had faith in me to take on this role, as it has enriched my life. Although it’s demanding, not everything in life is meant to be easy and the rewards have been there for me.
“I hope to be able to contribute at this level for some time.”