Esteemed Ferntree Gully firey takes out AFSM honour

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Recognised as one of the most experienced and valued leaders by his peers in the North East, Robert ‘Toddy’ Small will be awarded an Australian Fire Services Medal (AFSM) as part of this years’ Australia Day Honours.


Toddy has been a volunteer of CFA for more than 47 years, starting as a reserve at Bayswater Fire Station in 1974 and has been heavily involved at Ferntree Gully Fire Brigade since 1984.

His commitment to volunteerism throughout his time with CFA has seen him give an extraordinary amount of his own time supporting, training, exercising and mentoring volunteer firefighters.

In receiving the AFSM Toddy said he was surprised and humbled to be acknowledged in the same way as his admirable colleagues and mentors who have also received AFSMs.

“I’m a bit chuffed - at the end of the day, it’s not something that happens to everybody,” he said.

“But the recognition is not so much for me, but more so for my family in a lot of ways as they have had to put up with a lot over the years throughout my service.”

In what became a family tradition, Toddy’s career as a firefighter began when he followed the footsteps of his two eldest brothers, who were both members of CFA. Both Toddy’s daughters Darcy and Matilda also followed him into the CFA. The youngest, Tillee is still with Ferntree Gully coming up to 10 years of service.

“The story goes that my father dragged me down by my ears, and told the Captain, ‘see what you can do with this’,” he said.

Toddy has undertaken various roles throughout his career at CFA, including Captain and 1st Lieutenant at Ferntree Gully Fire Brigade, and leadership positions across Bayswater and Knox. His inclusive leadership spanned across Group’s and District’s in some of the most significant fire events in Australia history.

He notes his proudest role being his stint as captain between 2008-2010 where he led the brigade through the disastrous 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

“The performance of our brigade particularly through that time was incredible. We were involved in some substantial fires surrounding the region and the commitment and efforts of everyone in the brigade was tremendous.”

Toddy’s distinguished service stems far, however, he has received worthy praise for his guidance and implementation of vehicle and procedural innovations which have improved the efficiency and safety of Ferntree Gully’s members.

His creativity and involvement in the design of appliances and equipment saw him lead the volunteer input for the Medium Pumper program since its inception in 2012 where he visited 60 different sites to gain volunteer feedback, and the Heavy Tanker program which saw 60 tankers fitted with ‘A’ class foam systems and bulk water supply. Both which have had immeasurable benefit to the safety of firefighters and the community all over Australia.

“It’s the thing I’ve enjoyed most over the past 10 to 12 years in my time in both the CFA and on joint committees – being able to design equipment and work with volunteers out in the field.” he said.

He also passionately worked on the search for easy-to-use firefighting branches for older volunteers that has seen injuries reduced and a more effective conservation of water, meaning vehicles can remain on the fireground for longer.

Through his knowledge, brigade members are exposed to the latest developments in firefighting techniques and tactics. A train as we fight mentality has seen Toddy run training and assessment sessions on seasonal skills maintenance every week for brigade members and recruits, and a training program for strike team leaders ahead of each fire season. While also working in the Community Safety Briefing Program that assists brigades to prepare homeowners in their communities.

“The biggest lesson I share with my members is to just do the best you can do with whatever time and level of experience that you have,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid to have a go - until you have a crack at something you’ll never know if you can do it.”

Toddy’s operational experience has extended to leading many strike teams locally and interstate and is often called upon for major incidents and fires in Victoria. He is respected for his understanding of fire science and the ways the CFA employ its equipment to fight fires.

Toddy’s leadership qualities, team focus, and extensive operational knowledge have culminated in him becoming a much-respected CFA member, and a well-deserving recipient of the AFSM.


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Submitted by Lucy Bishop