Community change maker honoured with AFSM

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Paul Denham AFSM has made an exceptional and distinguished contribution to CFA for more than 45 years, attending thousands of callouts with the three brigades: Barmah, Boronia and Buxton.


He is currently the captain of Buxton Fire Brigade and still actively deploys to emergencies and frequently performs the role of incident controller.

As well as his leadership roles with Boronia and Buxton brigades, Paul is a Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria state councillor and has extensive experience in command roles as a strike team leader and division commander. Previously, he held the senior volunteer role at Boronia Fire Brigade and was a deputy group officer of Knox Group.

He displays exceptional competency in assessing risk, determining plans of action and resolving problematic situations, always with safety as a priority. He is qualified as a field safety officer for both bushfire and structural incidents.

After the 2009 fires, Paul headed up the administration team tasked with clearing up the thousands of destroyed homes and buildings throughout Victoria. During this work, Paul routinely travelled to each of the impacted areas liaising with government officials and administration teams. This project was completed ahead of time and under budget, and established itself as a model for future large-scale emergency clean-ups.

“I was contacted by Grocon who had a contract to manage the clean-up. It involved everything from community liaison to the physical clearing of sites to make them ready for reconstruction,” Paul said.

“It took about a year and afterwards I stayed with Grocon as a contracts manager.

“The clean-up gave me an appreciation of what people went through. Seeing the aftermath of the fires and the effort needed for recovery made me want to work harder to make sure brigades had the training, skills and equipment to ensure these catastrophic events didn’t happen again.”

Through his participation in many committees and working parties, Paul has championed the welfare and interests of volunteers and contributed to a better informed, educated and resourced volunteer firefighting and emergency response organisation. For example, he has served on the VFBV/CFA Joint Research and Development Committee, the PPC/E Consultative Committee, the Structural Ensemble Working Party, the Heavy Pumper Working Party and the Respiratory Protection Replacement Project that selected CFA’s current MSA breathing apparatus.

Paul recently moved from the Joint Training Committee to the newly formed Joint Operational Capability Committee. His contributions have resulted in improved performance and safety of the clothing and equipment CFA volunteers use, as well as advances in the training available to CFA members.

An indication of the respect with which he is held, was his nomination by VFBV for membership of the CFA Board where he was a forthright advocate for volunteers.

“During my time on the Board, I advocated strongly for improved amenities including the provision of toilets for the many rural stations which didn’t have toilets at that time. This was an important issue to me and now there are very few brigades that don’t have a toilet at or adjacent to their station.”

Paul’s work as a volunteer trainer and assessor and mentoring others has been and remains a valuable asset to CFA. He has influenced policy at the training committee level and has used that knowledge to be a valuable trainer and assessor. He has used his training and assessing skills to help volunteers across the stat. He instructs in General Firefighter and Breathing Apparatus.

He has a long association with, and enthusiastic support for, the CFA Juniors Program. He introduced and assisted in establishing the Juniors Program at Boronia brigade in 2002, consisting of 20 juniors from Boronia and Bayswater brigades; many of those juniors are now leaders in their brigades. Since transferring to Buxton brigade, he has continued as a junior leader and is now driving the restart of the lapsed Juniors Program (delayed due to COVID-19) for the Triangle brigades of Marysville, Narbethong, Taggerty and Buxton.

Like most successful CFA leaders, Paul has a supportive family.

“I wouldn’t have achieved anything without support from my family, especially my 93-year-old mother and my wife Carmel,” Paul said.

“As a young man, my mum supported my involvement with the brigade at Barmah and she has supported me through 45 years of service.

"Carmel is also a CFA member and has accompanied me to countless activities both when I was a CFA Board Member and now as a VFBV state councillor. This award is really a recognition of the time and sacrifices these two people have made to CFA.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the members of all three brigades who have tolerated me spending time away as a state councillor. I’d also like to acknowledge the many CFA staff and volunteers, from across the State, who have worked on the various committees and projects I have been privileged to contribute to; their help and advice has been invaluable.”

Paul is as passionate about CFA now as he was 45 years ago.

“When I look at a brigade’s trucks, structural and bushfire PPC and equipment, and the training our members receive, I can see we are in a far better place than we were when Barmah got its first truck – a second-hand Austin tanker – and I’d like to think I’ve contributed to that.

“We exist to protect our communities and we must do our best to protect our communities.”


Submitted by CFA Media