John Cowan has given years of dedicated service since joining CFA in 1978. Today that commitment was rewarded with John receiving the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
John has served as a member at several CFA brigades including Hurstbridge, Research and District 14 HQ East, as well as various groups including Lower Yarra and Nillumbik.
John’s passion lies in making sure CFA volunteers can continue to enhance the safety of Victorian communities by ensuring there will be a sustainable pool of future leaders who are experienced in emergency management.
John is also an experienced fireground commander, identifying emerging operational leaders with whom he shares his significant experience. He does this both formally through training sessions and informally as a coach and mentor.
“When I started in CFA 44 years ago, we had a group of mentors who had been around for a while and had lots of experience, and I learnt a lot of really good information from these people,” John said.
“Over recent years this mentoring ethos has dropped off and I have been encouraging people who have been around for a while to mentor others where they could – to establish a relationship wherever possible with people where they’d feel comfortable coming to you for advice or help.”
John’s extensive fire management experience has been instrumental in achieving the transition of the former Lower Yarra Group (and now Nillumbik Group) from a rural wildfire-focused group into a strong group of peri-urban brigades responsible for a rapidly growing population.
Recognising that many people living in these growing communities had little experience in how to live safely in a high-fire-risk environment, John as a Group and Deputy Group Officer worked with local brigades to develop response plans to ensure an appropriate response and support from neighbouring brigades.
John was an early adopter of the Australian Inter-agency Incident Management System (AIIMS) and developed his skills and experience to become accredited as a Planning Officer. He is currently a highly-respected Level 3 Accredited Planning Officer and has undertaken the role at many large and prolonged campaign fires.
“I think the highlight of my time at CFA so far has definitely been the opening of the Eltham Emergency Operations Centre, the former Kangaroo Ground Incident Control Centre,” John said.
“So many volunteer hours went into that and to see it handed over to the council as a magnificent mud-brick multi-agency emergency management facility was something really special.”
Passionate about prevention and preparedness planning for communities John has used his local connections to bolster the profile of CFA within the community, championing the message that fire safety is a shared the responsibility. He believes that the role of brigades today is much more than just putting out fires.
“We need to be role models and leaders and we need to talk about preparedness, response and more importantly recovery and where the community fits into that.”
In addition to his contributions to the core activities of emergency management, John has been a strong advocate for the welfare and needs of the members. As a respected and experienced leader, he is often sought out for his views or to contribute to submissions about issues that impact on brigades and members. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, John led the development of a virtual online training delivery program in District 14.
“The aim of the training was to ensure we stayed connected and to keep our emergency management skills up,” John said.
“We started small and now we’ve grown to a much larger number of people tuning in, from CFA members across the state, other emergency service organisations and even some interstate audience members.”
John said he was beyond humbled to be nominated for, and receive, an AFSM.
“It’s a bit embarrassing really. I know so many people that have AFSMs that I really look up to and it seems amazing to me that I’ve been nominated,” John said.
John is a former Group Officer, Deputy Group Officer and remains an active CFA volunteer. He is currently 3rd Lieutenant responsible for training in the District 14 Headquarters East Brigade.