Drouin West volunteer honoured with AFSM

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A volunteer for close to 50 years, Graeme Higgs has been recognised with an Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) in this year’s Australia Day Honours, in recognition of his dedication to CFA.


Graeme has distinguished himself as a selfless, dedicated and compassionate leader across his near five decades of service to CFA.

He’s one of CFA’s exceptional operational leaders and through his management of Drouin West Fire Brigade has helped to make the communities of Jindivick and Drouin West, and Victoria more widely, a safer place.

His expertise has been greatly valued during his participation in campaign fires in Victoria and interstate, where he has carried various roles including strike team leader, sector commander and divisional commander.

When asked about his AFSM award, Graeme said he was quite surprised.

“I’m truly humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” he said.

“It’s an honour to be recognised for something I enjoy doing. I do what I do to help people and usually can’t say no,

“I accept this AFSM on behalf of all the crews I’ve led and worked with over the years. Many thanks to Drouin West Brigade members for their support and teamwork.”

Graeme has a reputation for being technically competent and trusted by those he leads because the welfare of his crews is always front of mind – crew safety is a hallmark of his command.

His exceptional leadership in the 2009 fires, especially the Bunyip State Forest fire, inspired confidence in the strike teams he led and in the members of the Labertouche community, which was evident in his concern for the welfare and safety of his members and the community during the fire and over the following months.

“I was the strike team leader of the first strike team to tackle the Bunyip fire,” Graeme said.

“In the week leading up to Black Saturday, it was very hot and then a storm came through and we had about 11 lightning strikes. Eventually, all the strikes were extinguished except for one in the Bunyip State Forrest.

“We had 190 callouts on Black Saturday and over the following weeks. I took three weeks off work to take on divisional commander roles as we had strike teams coming into our area all the time to help our brigade manage the massive amount of calls.

“During my time as captain, the support of my family – Chris, Clare and Scott – kept the farm running and allowed me to help others. Thank you so much.”

Graeme joined Drouin West Brigade as a teenager where his leadership potential was recognised early.

He has served in leadership roles for most of his time, including 20 years as brigade captain, junior leader, and his current position as Deputy Group Officer.

During his time as captain, Graeme identified the need for change and led the transition of Drouin West Brigade from a traditional rural brigade to one capable of responding in a professional manner to the range of incidents typical of an active urban/rural interface brigade.

He established a culture of professionalism that remains evident today.

He identified the need for change, developed more appropriate content for the brigade’s training program, and then ensured that members gained the competencies needed to capably and professionally meet the challenges posed by the changing risk profile.

His efforts over the years have been recognised with the National Medal and the National Emergency Medal.

Graeme used every opportunity to engage with other community groups and events to establish the brigade as an integral part of the community.

The brigade supported events held by the local school and organisations and this provided opportunities to meet members of the growing community.

Graeme was elected Deputy Group Officer of West Gippsland Group in 2002 and he had a significant role in the negotiations and formation of a new and larger Baw Baw Group following municipal restructure.

He was again elected as the second Deputy Group Officer and has taken particular interest in the group’s communications systems and operating procedures and the conduct of group training exercises.

A lasting tribute to Graeme’s outstanding contribution to saving lives and property in the Labertouche area on Black Saturday is in the Nangara Reserve.

As part of the restoration of the reserve, the local community replaced the many wooden carved statues that were lost and one of the new concrete sculptures is of Graeme, the firefighter.

“A local artist took photos of me in turnout gear and then carved the sculpture,” Graeme said.

“I feel proud that the statue of me was made. It represents the effort of all local firefighters.”


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Submitted by CFA Media