Tarrawingee's Jamaine Cougle (3rd LT), Andrew Jones (2nd LT), Charlie McGrath (winner), Barry Grant (4th LT), David Gilbert (Captain)
There’s not a day you won’t find 21-year-old Charlie McGrath donning his CFA workwear or lending a helping hand during a middle-of-the-night callout.
Described as the ultimate community man, it’s no surprise he was named Tarrawingee’s Premier Firefighter of the Year.
Tarrawingee Fire Brigade Captain David Gilbert is his biggest fan and could not fault his tireless commitment to the brigade and devotion to the wider local community.
“It’s a yearly award to acknowledge the firefighters who have turned out well and who have really engaged with the brigade,” David said.
“This year we nominated with the brigade management team and had a secret vote to determine who was going to take it out.
“Charlie romped it in by a mile. For his age, he is amazing. He is very community minded.”
Modest by nature and loyal by heart, Charlie says he was astounded by the award recognition and quite overwhelmed by the response that has followed since.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all. But it’s good to be recognised for all the work that we put in,” Charlie said.
“I just love getting out there and getting involved among the community. I enjoy all aspects of the work that we do. I really love it all.”
Originally from Moyhu, Charlie joined the brigade just a couple of years ago when he moved to the area during the 2019-20 bushfires.
“I was always hearing the shed alarm go off, so it made me want to join and help out,” Charlie said.
David recalls the local floods in Tarrawingee and said Charlie was really involved in those too.
“If the pager goes off in the middle of the night, Charlie is there. He gets to the station before I do!” David said.
“It’s good to see a young person so engaged with us because they’re very hard to find.
“They’ve got busy lives with work and uni. But if I rang him up tonight and said I needed a hand with XYZ, he’d be there.”
David has played a key role in mentoring Charlie and has been heavily involved in his training for the general firefighter (GFF) course alongside the Wangaratta group.
“He’s one of the first firefighters we’ve had who has gone through the GFF course, and as soon as he finished that he was straight on the tanker,” David said.
“He’s done a lot of training. He did his hazmat last year, his low-structure fire, and he’s just finished his breathing apparatus (BA) course. Even though we’re not a BA brigade, he was all over it.”
Charlie said Tarrawingee is getting bigger so there will be a need for BA soon.
“It will be good to be prepared so I can help out and get the job done,” Charlie said.
David said at times he has handed the ultralight tanker keys over to Charlie, getting him experience behind the wheel.
“I’m always looking for ways to upskill Charlie because of his enthusiasm to learn and be involved,” David said.
“He is a good firefighter at the end of the hose. He is very sensible - he even cleans the trucks after a callout.
“A lot of people just disappear when we get back to the station, but he is always more than happy to stay there and clean up.
“Even if we have a community engagement session, he is always there. He goes above and beyond.”
Charlie’s name will be displayed on an honour board in the station that has been created by David to pay tribute to previous winners and former Captains.
David’s wife 3rd Lieutenant Jamaine Cougle has nothing but praise for Charlie, reiterating just how much of an impact he has had on the community, as well as on the other 21 active brigade members.
“We need more young firefighters like Charlie. We’re always keen to build our member base and encourage community members to join,” Jamaine said.
Charlie said he’s putting in the hard yards at the moment and maybe down the track he’ll look at a leadership role.
“For now, I’m happy with where I’m at and I’m keen to keep learning as much as possible.”