The small rural brigade is situated on the northern side of the Latrobe Valley close to substantial economic assets such as Yallourn power station and the Maryvale paper mill. The majority of its 20 turnouts a year are in support of neighbouring brigades.
“We’ve had major fires in the past 10 years and I’ve had to make some very hard decisions,” says Helen. “We had to put last-chance firebreaks through our area in 2002-03, 2005-06 and 2006-07 but 2009 was the worst. We had a truck burnover in the Churchill fire when my husband was crew leader which meant a near-miss investigation and going to the Royal Commission.
“The good news is that all those members on the truck are still active in the brigade. The peer program support, the district and the CFA lawyers were all great.”
The amalgamation is also good news with Glengarry brigade soon to get a new three-bay fire station. “We’ve cluster trained with them for the past 10 years,” says Helen, “because we cross crew on strike teams. Historically we used to be one brigade anyway.”
As for being a female captain, that’s also not an issue. “I grew up reading the Red Book and we have always had the listening set on the wall. My father, Doug Henry, was a captain before me so there’s that sense of continuity.
“People just see the helmet and the crew leader tabard and they know that you have the competencies. I think a mixed crew in a dangerous situation is a good thing. Women might not tend to rush in but then guys have that impetus and you need both. We balance each other out. It’s swings and roundabouts. The trucks don’t rely on arm-strong steering anymore and we’ve got smaller hands which can get in narrow spaces like opening the tank-fill.”
Helen describes her personal style as inclusive. “It’s not ‘my way or the highway’. Know what you’re going to do and get people to come over to your way of seeing.”
CFA has given Helen one of the proudest moments of her life. “I have two qualified firefighters as sons, Adam and Joshua,” she says. “I’ll always remember the first time I took the oldest out to a fire with me as captain.”