Peer support and safety - 30 years in the CFA

Portarlington Fire Brigade member Darren Nisbet has seen many changes over the 30 years he has volunteered with the CFA.


Darren Nisbet

“For one thing the training requirements, I believe these have changed for the better, the response system is better,” he said.

“We’ve also seen where we work change significantly to a semi-urban environment, with big population growth but an elderly population so we have to attract more younger members, and keep them involved and part of the organisation.”

Like many CFA volunteers, Darren first joined because he wanted to help the community - as well as join the ‘running team’.

“Back then you just wanted to be a firefighter. And you just showed up and they gave you a pair of overalls and a hard hat and you just went to it,” he said.

“These days safety is first and foremost as it should be. And that’s one of the biggest changes - that we’re not scared to address safety issues, that problems are acknowledged, and worked out together through the brigade.

“The peer support is amazing. Once it used to be that you had a beer, and walked it off, but these days everyone is much more aware of providing support to each other. The more experienced members provide support to newer members, particularly when they have to deal with things like fatalities for the first time,” he said.

“These days we make sure people know what they will be responding to and know what to do. We don’t sugar coat it, but at the same time, we don’t want to scare off volunteers.

“The camaraderie is just awesome and you don’t get it anywhere else really. As a brigade member, support is offered to everyone.”

Darren says the leadership skills he has learnt through his time at the CFA have built his confidence to do whatever needs to be done. Today Darren is a contract manager and trainer for a distribution company.

And what still surprises him most about the CFA? The fact that it really is a volunteer organisation.

“It’s funny, I think many people think we get paid. You’ll be out on a call at 2am on Friday or Saturday morning to the pub, and all the patrons think we’re getting paid to rock up or are on some sort of retainer. They don’t realise the people who rock up really are volunteers doing it for their community.”

Author: Miranda Schooneveldt