A firefighter for the past 50 years, Colin Newell is a well-known leader in his CFA district and beyond. Today Colin Newell will be awarded the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2019 Australia Day Honours List.
Colin receives his medal following more than 50 years of dedication to CFA and his community of Warracknabeal.
Colin’s service to his community and CFA has extended beyond his fireground skills to leading innovative projects that have transformed what it means for CFA and community to work as one.
Colin’s ethos has always been that CFA and community are one and the same.
“I joined CFA as soon as I was 16 years old. I didn’t think about it, it’s what everyone in the community did,” he said.
“We do our job best when the community is involved. It’s what I’ve always believe and tried to follow when I was Captain and now as Group Officer.”
It’s this mindset that has guided Colin in innovating the ways the Warracknabeal Group has interacted with the local community under his leadership, launching both the Group Hubbing Project and the Voluntary Grain Harvesting Guide.
Facing rural decline, the Group Hubbing Project transformed the way local brigades in the group operated and centralising the roles of Secretary and Treasurer across the 13 brigades.
“It’s a simple idea, meaning that our smaller brigades were no longer required to fill admin roles while they were already struggling to attract new members,” he said.
“It doesn’t sound like a big change, but it’s taken the strain off our smaller brigades, ensuring they can do what they do best and focus on keeping their communities safe.”
The community and innovative mindset feeds Colin’s commitment to CFA and has also seen him lead the Voluntary Grain Harvesting Guide. Like much of rural Victoria, the landscape in Warracknabeal is dominated by agriculture which creates a unique set of problems, notably in summer with fires often sparked by harvesting machinery.
“Our community was facing a lot of harvest fires during the season. We took a look and said people needed to take responsibility; these fires are preventable and tie up vital CFA resources,” he said.
“Working with the local Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) we systemised how farmers determine if it’s a safe day to harvest. We also worked with the VFF to develop a system where we can text farmers on days when it is not safe to harvest.
“It’s been a huge success and we have seen a significant decline in fires started by harvesting since implementing it three years ago.”
Colin’s commitment and dedication to CFA has seen him rise through the operations ranks. However, it is his leadership and innovation away from the fireground that differentiates his contribution to CFA. Colin believes CFA works best when it puts community first.
Colin’s work has resulted in measurable safety benefits for his community providing a model of community engagement for the rest of Victoria.
Colin’s previous awards include a National Medal, CFA Life Membership and 50-Year Service Medal.