Faces of CFA: Bobbie-Lee Nelson

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What binds CFA members is the common goal to protect lives and property. But they are a diverse bunch – every member has a story and Faces of CFA introduces you to just some of those stories.


Bobbie-Lee Nelson, Portland Fire Brigade, District 4

What is your CFA role?

For the past eight years I have held the role of District 4 Air Base Manager for the Aviation Firefighting Fleet along with the position of brigade community safety coordinator.

Why did you join?

When I was a member of Coastguard, all emergency services were called for a search and rescue of vehicle occupants who were thought to have driven off a cliff in Portland. CFA members on the cliff top tried to communicate with us in the water and I had no idea what language they were using.

CFA radio ‘speak’ was something I hadn’t heard before, so I attended the fire station and asked for some training. When I realised that firefighters do so much more for the community than just putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, I signed up.

What incident has had the greatest impact on you?

The Charlton floods left me with a lifelong memory seeing a sheet of corrugated iron leaning up against a tree spray painted with ‘thank you’ and a piece of cardboard with ‘thank you, you are angels’ written in lipstick. It hits home to see the compassion and spirit of people who’ve lost everything and reminds us of why we take that extra step to help.

Who have been your mentors in CFA?

Ian Hamley has been my greatest mentor. His dedication, passion and experience have been invaluable. Ian‘s instruction on plantation fires, crew safety and pump operation is tried and tested. Garry Mallen and Stuart Richardson’s many years of experience in the fire service have served not only me but the whole brigade.

What have been the highlights of your time in the brigade?

My biggest highlight was having the opportunity to work with the LATS (large air tankers) at Avalon Airbase. The knowledge I gained from the pilots and crew about strategies, operation and tactics was invaluable. It was an honour to sit in the pilot’s seat and be shown the internal workings of the aircraft.

During the Black Summer fires, I was deployed to Corryong to run the airbase where the aerial incendiary firebombing operation from a helicopter was being run. This was a field of operation I had never experienced, but again the crews were more than willing to impart their knowledge.

The Kaladbro peat fire was another experience I will never forget. I was thrown into the deep end as I had no prior experience of this sort of fire. I will never forget the tuition and guidance I received. I was rewarded with a three-day stay in Melbourne, a ticket to the Australian Open in a corporate box and the honour to be a flag bearer in the Australia Day March.

How do you motivate your brigade members?

I try to encourage members to step out of their usual roles and experience another field. For example, from being a front-line firefighter to doing community safety or loading bombers. Firefighting is more than just holding a hose. We can keep each other motivated this way.

What lessons are you most keen to pass onto other members?

Look, listen and learn. Knowledge is not a burden to carry. What you learn in another area can save not only your life but others as well.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy collecting ammunition cartridges, gardening and working on my museum of old tools.


Submitted by News and Media