CFA heroes receive Australian Fire Service Medal

Five CFA members with close to 200 years of combined service between them have been awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) in recognition of their outstanding service to the community, when the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List was announced today.


Ruth Ryan, HVP Ballarat Plantations Forest Industry Brigade

Their service spans across forest fire management, international firefighting, operational command, training and development.

Several served during disasters, including Black Saturday and Ash Wednesday, and one has seen the transformation of his brigade area from a rural community to bustling suburb across half a century.

The CFA AFSM recipients are:

  • Ruth Ryan, HVP Ballarat Plantations Forest Industry Brigade
  • Alan Francis Hodgkin, Bayswater Fire Brigade
  • Mark Anthony Gilmore, Operations Manager (Regional Commander) Loddon Mallee region
  • Damien Phillip O'Connor, Wonthaggi Fire Brigade
  • Ronald Neil Beer, Limestone Fire Brigade

CFA Chief Executive Officer Paul Smith congratulated the recipients on their outstanding achievements.

CFA Chief Executive Officer Paul Smith congratulated the recipients on their outstanding achievements.

“CFA is incredibly proud of its volunteers and career firefighters, and it is wonderful to see some of our longest-serving members recognised with the highest orders in the country,” he said.

CFA Acting Chief Officer Garry Cook thanked the recipients for their contribution in making Victoria stronger and safer.

“We are fortunate as an organisation to have so many outstanding people who devote a large part of their life to the protection of lives and property in their communities,” he said.

Victorian firefighting pioneer Ruth Ryan will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Ruth receives the medal after 35 years of active service in both the forest service and CFA, where she has served as Captain of three Forest Industry Brigades and is currently captain of the HVP Ballarat Plantations Forest Industry Brigade in CFA District 15.   

Ruth was nominated for an AFSM for providing outstanding leadership to CFA's Forest Industry Brigades and to the plantation industry.

As the Corporate Fire Manager for HVP Plantations, Ruth oversees the activities of seven CFA Forest Industry Brigades and fire management of over 160,000 hectares of softwood and hardwood plantations.

She has earned the respect of her peers and has established herself as a role model for other women firefighters, the award nomination states.

“It was an unusual career choice, as a female when I left school, but I grew up in rural Victoria so I was very keen to work in regional and rural Victoria and I’d always enjoyed the sciences so I studied Forest Science at university,” Ruth said.

As one of the first eight females to graduate, she then joined the Forests Commission Victoria.           

“I guess I was something of a pioneer, but I haven’t thought much about that. I just love working in the natural environment and all the challenges that it brings, and I’ve had some very good mentors through the years,” she said.

Her first fire season included the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, and she has been involved in a command role in many campaign fires in Victoria, including the 2009 Black Saturday fires.

Ruth was instrumental in bringing together 12 competing forest grower companies, through the Green Triangle Fire Cooperative Project, to implement an agreement to work cooperatively and adopt common operating procedures.

The initiative sought to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of fire suppression, detection and prevention activities within the Green Triangle in south-west Victoria and south-eastern South Australia.

Communities in both Victoria and South Australia benefit from the nationally significant enhancement to cross-border and inter-company fire management arrangements through improvements to their overall fire safety. 

Bayswater firefighter Alan Hodgkin will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Joining Boronia Fire Brigade half a century ago, Alan was also a founding captain of the Bayswater Fire Brigade. Last year, the Bayswater brigade honoured his legacy by putting his name on the side of its pumper.

“It was a different area when I joined Boronia, just housing estates, orchards, no industry, he said.  “It was pretty quiet really, mostly grass fires.”

“Then, we started the Bayswater station in a tin shed behind a service station and all calls came in via the garage. Our first warning device was an air siren - it sounded like war had broken out!”

These days, Boronia and Bayswater are bustling suburbs with pockets of medium to high-density housing as well as industry and other large workplaces.

Alan worked in fire brigades across Melbourne’s and Victoria’s east, before returning to his beloved Bayswater brigade. Retiring at 55, he has remained a CFA member into his 80s.

“We’re all the same, one day I would be getting paid as a professional, the next I would show up as a volunteer and I’m still a professional. Forget the ‘just’ a volunteer or ‘only’ a volunteer, we’re one team.”

Alan is recognised for distinguished achievements through his remarkable contributions to the training and development of members, particularly in the fields of leadership and driver training. His efforts have helped to shape the organisation into what it is today, the nomination states.

His commitment to embrace and encourage volunteers epitomises the model approach that all CFA career staff aim to provide. He has approached every task, for both his local brigade and the community, with dedication and determination.

Kingower firefighter Mark Gilmore will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

He receives the medal after 40 years of service to the CFA and Forest Fire Management in Victoria. He has brought significant knowledge of bush firefighting and forest management to the CFA, and has applied this to achieve significant change in the content and format of training modules and assessment formats.

Mark said he joined the CFA as a junior at the urging of local CFA members after he and some school friends accidentally started a fire at their school that “nearly burnt down the town” of Rheola.

“It was a small country school and as we were doing some chores, like school kids did in those days, we emptied some ashes from a burner. They next thing we knew the adjoining paddock was on fire. We were very lucky we didn’t lose any homes,” he said.

It was the first of many encounters with fire; at 16 Mark was confronted with a local fire that got away unexpectedly. Later, he fought fires at Broadford when an arsonist was on the loose and survived getting trapped in a Gippsland bushfire with 50 other firefighters.

During the 2008 Californian fires, he performed the role of divisional supervisor during a 40-day operational tour.

He was able to draw on his significant experience during Black Saturday in 2009, when fires claimed many homes and one person’s life in Bendigo.

“I had a discussion with the incident controller and told him I think I should go out in the field,” he said.

There, he was able to direct people to various tasks.

“It’s such a rare occurrence for Bendigo and when confronted, many people are almost paralysed. But if they’re told to ‘pick up that hose and put out that fence’, they’ll do it,” he said.

“For three or four hours I was getting around Bendigo asking people to do what they could. People were picking up garden hoses from properties they didn’t know and just getting on with it. It was a collaboration of community effort and fire Service.

“I was fortunate in that I had seen the behaviours of so many fires over the years that I’d had a chance to pre-load some strategies. I’d spent half a lifetime running through these scenarios and then it happened.”

The Australian Fire Service Medal nomination states Mark has distinguished himself locally through his work in the development of strong relationships with partner agencies and improving interoperability, particularly in the field of fire investigation.

A committed mediator, and crusader for inclusion, he is able to relate to a broad range of people making him a great ambassador for CFA at the international, national, state, regional and local levels.

Mark said it was humbling to receive the Australian Fire Service Medal.

“It’s just amazing. I look at some of the people that already hold the medal that are mentors to me - to be in their company is very humbling.”

Mark will today celebrate with family and friends at their vineyard, Both Banks Vineyard Kingower.

Wonthaggi firefighter Damien O'Connor will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

He receives the medal after 33 years of dedicated volunteer service to the CFA and to the communities of the Shire of Bass Coast, but CFA was in his blood before then.

“It’s a family thing really, both my parents were members, it’s something that you’re born into,” he said.

And while he has fond childhood memories of growing up in the Wonthaggi fire station, there were also sacrifices that came with being a CFA family.

“We never went anywhere for school holidays - it would be the fire season. Dad would be fighting fires and mum would be stuck by the radio 24 hours a day,” he said.

“I remember the old man heading off during the Ash Wednesday fires and the stories that came back, and dad being gone all night when the Union Theatre in Wonthaggi was destroyed by fire.

It’s been a similar experience for his own family.

“It is a sacrifice, so the medal really belongs to the family - and to my brigades. I couldn’t have done it without either of them,” he said.

“I’ve been very fortunate - I have the best brigades in the whole state, some really great, down-to-earth people.”

While jumping on the back of a truck used to be part of the excitement, these days the greatest driver is the people and the brigades, Damien said.

“To be able to deliver a fire truck to a brigade is what keeps me going these days,” he said.

The Australian Fire Service Medal nomination states that Damien goes out of his way to share his knowledge and skills in order to develop existing and future crew leaders, and Brigade Officers, as well as members of partner agencies.

Damien has a reputation for driving continuous improvement and positive change. His dedication and in-depth knowledge have encouraged the Bass Coast brigades to be proactive and innovative with initiatives including the acquisition of an All-Terrain Vehicle to provide transport for crew and equipment to otherwise inaccessible areas.

Yea firefighter Neil Beer will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Neil receives the medal after 40 years of selfless and exceptional service to CFA. He has been dedicated to improving the safety of communities within the Murrindindi Shire and across the state. He has worked tirelessly and proudly as a volunteer, to protect the community from the consequences of fires and other emergencies.

“I’d been on the back of a truck a few times and the Limestone Captain said ‘you better join’, so I did,” Neil said about his decision to join CFA in 1978.

Since then, he has been recognised by the CFA Chief Officer as an exceptional operational commander, and Incident Manager, through his endorsement as a Level 3 Incident Controller.

Locally, he is held in the highest regard by his peers. He inspires the confidence and trust in those he leads to achieve outstanding results, even during the darkest times, the Australian Fire Service Medal nomination reads.

“I’d like to pay tribute to the support I’ve had from CFA members - you’ve always got people backing you up - and the support from family,” Neil said. “When you go away for the night, or 3-4 days, or to Sydney for a course, they’re the ones who have to pick everything else up.

“CFA is a magnificent body of people from all walks of life who work so well together, and together with the communities we’re in.”

That was particularly noticeable during one of Neil’s most challenging times as a CFA volunteer, the Black Saturday fires, when he was Divisional Commander for the Yea/Flowerdale area.

“In Yea, for example, 4500 people were evacuated to a township of 1200 people. I went home for a shower and a rest at 2.30 and when I drove back into town at 5.45am, the whole main street and football ground were occupied and it stayed like that for weeks, but everyone pitched in. The Red Cross, for example, was serving meals for three weeks.”

To all of our award recipients, CFA says thank you.

  • Ruth Ryan 1
  • Ruth Ryan 2
  • Alan Hodgkin
  • Mark Gilmore 1
  • Damien O'Connor
  • Neil Beer

Author: Dylan Cabrie-foote