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Chief Officer 2009 fires anniversary speech

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As CFA’s Chief Officer, I am deeply honoured to be speaking on behalf of all emergency services, as we commemorate the tragedy of the 2009 fires and remember the bravery of those who risked their lives to save others during that terrible summer.

Chief Officer 2009 fires anniversary speech

Chief Officer Steve Warrington delivering his address to the commemoration on 4 February.

I’d first like to offer my condolences to the bereaved families and friends of the 173 people who died in the fires and on behalf of CFA and the emergency services sector express our ongoing sadness for each of your losses. You are always in our thoughts.

My colleagues from CFA, MFB, Forest Fire Management Victoria, State Emergency Services, Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria are all represented by leaders, staff and volunteers this evening.

Many of the events of early 2009 are deeply painful subjects at CFA and other agencies.

Rarely does a day pass where something about that time doesn’t cross my mind.

As the years have gone by, the sense of grief has been channelled into a determination to ensure we keep learning and evolving.

It’s impossible to tell the story of the 2009 fires without speaking about the enormous task our emergency services people took on during that long and dreadful summer.

We had a string of record breaking hot days, well over 40 degrees, coming on the back of a decade long drought.

This created weather patterns and circumstances that we had never seen before.

In late January, we had significant fires already burning, including the Delburn fires in Gippsland.

On February 7, the state was tinder dry and the storm force winds that accompanied the extreme heat created the conditions for this unprecedented disaster.

By the time the spotter at the Pretty Sally fire tower saw the first flames of the Kilmore East fire at 11.47am, every emergency services organisation in the state was already in full swing as the first of thousands of emergency incidents arose.

It was a tragic day where lives were lost but decisions were made that saved the lives of countless others in many small towns and communities across the State such as Horsham, and quite possibly all of the Dandenong Ranges ­-- all places where fires were beaten.

There is no doubt that Victoria’s emergency services agencies stood shoulder to shoulder during that time to save lives and protect property as best we could.

We witnessed women and men performing incredible acts of bravery, incredible feats of strength and moments of shattering heartbreak in their day jobs and as volunteers.  

We remember it all.

We remember the tens of thousands of volunteer and career firefighters and rescue crews who came from every corner of the state, the country and the world to battle raging infernos and help in those desperate days.

We remember the police who remained calm when people needed them most, some leading many people safely away from fire, risking their own lives.

We remember the ambulance crews that raced the injured to hospitals and comforted the sick and scared before there was anyone else there to help.

Finally, we remember the shock and horror of the days, weeks and months afterwards where we had to relive the trauma, learn from our mistakes and get on with the job.

We will never forget 2009.

I have been so inspired by the courage and determination that our emergency responders showed, and am humbled by the kindness and generosity of those who have supported us during that time, and ever since. 

It continues to motivate me, and many others in the sector to work hard to honour the trust you placed in us, then and now.

I take great strength from the way our staff and volunteers have grown in the past decade and how we’ve become stronger as a result.

This has been evident in recent weeks where we have experienced several significant fires and heat across the state.

On behalf of the emergency services sector, I thank you for your support and promise we will continue to stand by you.