AFSM awarded for aviation innovation

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John Katakouzinos is a pillar of the Victorian firefighting community, and has been recognised for his commitment with an Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM).


With a career spanning 32 years, John is well-respected for his work in the aviation firefighting sector. Beginning with Country Fire Authority (CFA) as a volunteer firefighter at Springvale Fire Brigade in 1991, John went on to become a career firefighter in 1999.

Now CFA Commander – Aviation, John was awarded the AFSM as part of the 2024 Australia Day Honours. The prestigious honour is awarded to those who have rendered distinguished service as a member of an Australian fire service.

Throughout his career, John has always been keen to champion change within the Victorian fire services, constantly looking for ways to improve the ways we protect the community. 

John’s passion for training started early in his career, helping to innovate and improve a number of courses still used in CFA today during his time as a career firefighter at Dandenong Fire Station. Included in this was the implementation of battery-operated road rescue tools for rescue brigades, which remain widely used across the state.

During his time as a volunteer was also where his interest in fire aviation developed, first qualifying as an air observer in 1997, before working his way up to air attack supervisor and air operations manager, among other roles. 

“I’ve always been interested in aviation, but I wasn’t specifically looking for a role in fire aviation. During the 1997 Dandenong Ranges fires I was a volunteer on the ground, and aircraft played a big part, and that set the course for me to get involved in fire aviation.”

“From the start, I’ve always been looking for ways to give our people in the emergency services sector the skills they need, which is what made me start to look at what was being done with aviation internationally.”

One such example of this is the fire aviation flight simulator, an Australia-first project on which John led the research, design, development and delivery. 

The flight simulator, designed to enhance the training of fire aviation personnel within the sector, provides real-world training and skill testing in a safe, controlled environment as well as the ability for training to be tailored to suit a student’s needs. An innovation for fire services, the simulator is an example of both John’s desire for constant skill development for firefighters and deep knowledge of the aviation sector.

John’s passion for training comes from a desire to ensure the community feels safe in the knowledge they are in good hands.

“As firefighters, we are generally turning up to the worst day of someone’s life. We need to turn up with the best possible skillset that we can achieve, and the only way that we can do that is by continually training to the best possible standard, which ensures that when turn up to someone’s disaster – we do what we can to make it better.”

“My passion is about giving our people the best tools possible so that they can give the community what they expect and what the community deserves.”

Mentorship at the heart of all he does, John said he is most proud of the people he has assisted in developing their skills to become leaders in their own right.

“There’s lots of little things that I’m proud of during my time as a firefighter, but I’m most proud of the people I’ve mentored throughout the journey. It always puts a smile on my face when I get firefighters I’ve trained in the past contact me telling me their achievements and thanking me.”

As for receiving the AFSM, John said he is humbled.

“I’m very proud and I feel very privileged to have been nominated and to receive the award, but that’s not what I do any of what I do. I do it because I always want to make sure our people are continuously improving, and our people get the best tools they need to perform the job they need for our community.”


Submitted by CFA Media