Nancy Boura. Photos courtesy Upper Beaconsfield Rural Fire Brigade
Upper Beaconsfield Rural Fire Brigade’s Nancy Boura is one of the early pioneers of women firefighting in CFA.
A firefighter from 1981 to the end of 2014, Nancy is believed to have attended more than 1,000 incidents during her time as an operational member, and she remains an enthusiastic member of the brigade today.
Nancy joined Upper Beaconsfield in May 1978 after seeing an ad in the local newspaper encouraging people to join the brigade’s newly-established auxiliary. At the time she thought she would be feeding firefighters, but little did she know how involved she would become.
She would soon add Communications Officer to her belt, managing the brigade’s incoming emergency calls via what was the Fire Reporting Service, and also alerting other brigades in the area when they turned out to incidents.
In the 1980s, Upper Beaconsfield, like many other small communities, found itself in the position where many of the brigade’s firefighters were forced to find work away from town. This left the brigade with a limited crew to respond to incidents during the day.
Nancy was working at an apple orchard for then brigade captain Eric Bumpstead. Eric approached Nancy and a number of other women to gauge their interest in being trained to be firefighters to help bolster the brigade’s ranks. At the time, it wasn’t widely accepted that women could be firefighters, and the group initially trained in private at Eric’s orchard.
They soon gained the necessary skills to turn out to their first fire together and they were successful in controlling and extinguishing the blaze. The women would affectionally come to be known as Eric’s Angels after the popular television show Charlie’s Angels. Nancy would go on to learn how to drive the brigade’s vehicles, successfully gaining her truck licence.
“I came to Australia from England and knew no one in the area,” Nancy said.
“Volunteering with CFA initially was a way of getting to know people. I figured I could join the auxiliary because I was capable of making sandwiches and taking them out to the fire front.
“Then it got out hand and I ended up being a radio operator and then one of the first women firefighters in Upper Beaconsfield,” she reflects, smiling.
“When you’re with a fire brigade you always have a second family, and it’s a useful way to do something for the community.”
The 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires played a huge part in Nancy’s life and role as a CFA volunteer. On that day, Nancy was an integral part of a seven-member crew on Upper Beaconsfield’s tanker 1 which included her then 17-year-old son Jon. The crew endured a burn under in Officer and two burn overs in Mount Misery in Beaconsfield and Critchley Parker Jr Reserve in Guys Hill where they were forced to vigorously protect their own lives.
The only woman on board, she calmly reverted to her valuable training and applied the important principles that had previously been taught to her. To this day, she believes this training and principles saved their lives as fire raged around them. Fellow crews would not be so fortunate, with 12 firefighters from two other brigades losing their lives in the same fire. The town of Upper Beaconsfield was also completely destroyed.
“We heard on the radio that there was a fire to the north coming our way and decided to turn the trucks out even though the fire wasn’t on us at that point,” Nancy said.
“By the time we arrived at the station the fire was spotting down Cardinia Creek to Officer.
“From there on we just got busy. We headed down to Officer to start with and then moved back to Mount Misery and then onto Critchley Parker Jr Reserve. We were there when the wind changed.
“It was one long day of one disaster after the other. There were times when the fire caught up with us.
“It’s not something you can describe, and I am grateful for the excellent training we had had with our captain.
“That day was the start of a month or so of turning out; I was either on the truck at the fire or manning the radio base.”
As a result of Ash Wednesday Nancy realised that there was insufficient detail in the brigade’s current map books. She set about creating a detailed and accurate local map reference book which included roads and tracks, water points (including private dams), points of interest, property boundaries and accessibility points. Nancy’s Map Books, as they are affectionately known, are still widely used today and form part of the inventory on all Upper Beaconsfield’s vehicles.
Across her volunteer career Nancy has received a National Medal, National Emergency Medal and Brigade Life Membership. She was recently honoured for her remarkable contribution, receiving the Women and Firefighting Australasia (WAFA) Outstanding Contribution by a Female Firefighter Award as part of the 2023 Women and Firefighting Awards.
“Across her more than 45 years of service, Nancy has been a vital part of our brigade,” current Upper Beaconsfield Captain Ian Pinney said.
“She is still usually one of the first to put her hand up or name on a roster for a fundraiser barbecue and has been instrumental in raising funds for the upgrade of operational equipment and vehicles.
“She can also often be found at the station cleaning up, vacuuming, cutting up rags, setting up chairs in preparation for meetings, washing dishes, getting barbecue supplies ready or weeding the station garden beds.
“She may be quietly spoken but when Nancy talks you listen because it is more often than not a very wise head with many years of practical experience talking.”
- Upper Beaconsfield Community Open Day 2022
- Nancy with Wendy Thomson and Judy Irwin - all served during the Ash Wednesday fires
- Eric Bumpstead, Nancy and Stan Hamilton
- Upper Beaconsfield Tanker 1 at Critchley Parker Junior Reserve, Ash Wednesday fires