What binds CFA members is the common goal to protect lives and property, but you’re a diverse bunch. Every member has a story and Faces of CFA introduces you to just some of those stories.
Les Kelly, Headquarters Brigade, District 7
What are your CFA roles?
I’m the captain of the District 7 Headquarters Brigade. I’ve been a senior officer there since the inception of the brigade in 2008. We’re an active group of long-time CFA members who are done with jumping on trucks but still want to be useful to our community. We have trailers for rehab, refrigerated drinks and staging areas and we handle logistics.
Before that I was foreman for four years, first lieutenant for six years, then captain for eight years at Lara Fire Brigade, and I’m a life member.
Why did you join?
I joined Mannerim brigade with my twin brother in 1961 but I was unofficially a member long before that. One of us used to drive the Land Rover to training when we were both about 12. Don’t tell anyone.
We grew up on a cropping and sheep property. The farm was our livelihood so it was natural to look after your own interests and your neighbours.
What was the first incident you attended?
There was a fire burning down the driveway towards the homestead at Suma Park a mile from home and they rang us. I remember beating the fire down with branches from a tree. Mannerim brigade didn’t have a fire truck but the McDonald family had one tank on the back of a farm truck. That was it.
What incident has had the greatest impact on you?
The 1969 grassfire through Lara which burned people on the highway. I was on a ready-mix concrete truck carting water and directing it to trucks around Lara. My twin was an ambulance officer and he attended to people on the highway. There was so much devastation. The school and the Anglican church were burnt and more than five houses in a row. CFA learned a lot of lessons from that fire.
What CFA training have you got the most out of?
I became a volunteer instructor at Fiskville in the 1980s and went there with our brigade and Anakie Group for live fire experience. We’d light up flammable liquid fires and multi-storey building fires and watch the fire behaviour. You’d see, in a controlled situation, how much protection you had to give yourself and it really made an impression.
What lessons are you most keen to pass onto other members?
I’d say to the rank and file, make sure you ask questions and get the details right when you’re given orders. If you’re reluctant to go into a particular situation, give your reasons and talk it out.
I was in a crew asked to go down a road in She Oaks. I said, “I don’t know how to get out of there. Can we turn around and get out? Is there a cleared area where we can defend ourselves? What do we do when we get there?” In the end we didn’t go down there and I was right: there was no room for turning around.
What has been the highlight of your time in CFA?
The achieving of 50 years in a great organisation with its camaraderie and good working relationships. CFA members all have one common goal. It’s the way we all work together. Sometimes it might be with people you don’t know, but by the end of the job they’re friends and you trust them.
My late wife Jenny always supported me. I couldn’t have done it if she hadn’t been right behind me.