A CFA volunteer firefighter for more than 50 years, Brian Petrie has been awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours to recognise his dedication to CFA.
“Receiving this award was a bit of a surprise,” Brian said. “We go about doing our work and don’t really think about medals. My real reward is seeing the people I’ve trained perform well, whether on the fireground or in incident management teams.”
Brian’s operational skills and knowledge about bushfire behaviour and suppression are highly regarded in CFA, and he is endorsed as a Level 3 operations officer and a Level 3 safety officer. His Ash Wednesday experiences and his passion for the development of more effective training and exercises has clearly contributed to raising the standard of training, particularly in the fields of bushfire behaviour and suppression and crew safety.
His appointment to CFA staff in 2001 as the inaugural wildfire instructor for District 8 led to a leap in the wildfire knowledge and skills of career staff. His training methods enabled them to see and experience fire in the landscape. He pointed out aspects of fire behaviour and the effects of terrain while carrying out useful fuel reduction burns.
He was the architect of the successful crew leader and strike team leader development courses in District 8 and designed and ran the skills maintenance programs for these roles. He’s meticulous with his preparation and has acquired a considerable inventory of props, images and videos to help him deliver more effective training and better outcomes.
During the 2009 fires, he was a field-based operations officer, where he briefed strike teams on the situation and on safety issues. He also provided invaluable support to strike teams from areas not used to fighting fires in mountainous and heavily forested areas.
During the 2019 East Gippsland fires, he spent more than 35 days on deployment leading and developing future leaders and he mentored divisional commanders during the 2019 Bunyip fires. When conditions were at their worst he gave guidance and encouragement to all those he came in contact with including incident controllers.
Brian is a great advocate for succession planning and emphasises during the leadership training he conducts that one of the primary duties of any leader is to train and develop the knowledge and skills of those who will replace you. He has made an exceptional contribution to the development of young volunteer members, having a special ability to gain their confidence, and revels in providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to enable CFA to continue to deliver high quality services.
Brian has also played a critical role in the development of Cardinia Group’s officers for at least the past 20 years, helping to broaden their knowledge and skills, and providing opportunities to experience various roles while being mentored by him.
Whether carrying out activities in Gembrook Fire Brigade, the Cardinia Group or during fire management, Brian is an enthusiastic, innovative, and highly approachable leader.
“Before becoming a staff member, I travelled around District 8 giving sessions to brigades about wildfire safety, suppression and behaviour," Brian said. "After Ash Wednesday, I wanted to train people to be safer around fire than they had been in the past.
“I was grateful to have Ivan Smith as a mentor. He was an operations officer at Dandenong when I became a wildfire instructor, and we worked together to get the wildfire training up and running.
“When working full-time as an instructor, I was always looking for people who I believed would make good leaders and encouraged them to get the training to become strike team leaders. People who would make good leaders don’t always put themselves forward and they need encouragement.”