As the summers came and went I would be walking around the house constantly looking for smoke, smelling for smoke, living in constant fear. Some days I would even be in tears when I heard the local brigade’s siren.
I remember saying after the 1997 fires that I could never be a firefighter. Then one day, a copy of Firebreak (our local brigade’s publication) arrived in my letterbox asking for auxiliary members. I joined as an auxiliary member willing to make the brave firefighters meals and refreshments.
The more I attended the brigade the more I became hooked. I did the fireground safety course so I could deliver meals to firefighters on the fireground and before I knew it I became operational.
My first operational experience came along when I rocked up to the brigade for training, as I had done for the past few months. The siren went off and I thought they were testing the siren. “Hurry up, get in,” everyone was saying, and the next thing I knew we were out the door with lights and sirens, and my palms were sweating.
We were turning out to a grass and scrub fire in the national park. It was too late to tell them I couldn’t do this and, being a typical woman, the thought crossed my mind that I should have gone to the toilet first.
Everyone was supportive and all the training I’d done was put into action.
That turnout changed my life. It was the point in my life when that arsonist hadn’t got the better of me.
I have now been with the Sassafras and Ferny Creek brigade for five years. I’m secretary and fifth lieutenant of the brigade as well as head of the Dandenong Ranges Feeding Group.
I really encourage anyone who is living in fear in the bush to give their local brigade a go. The skills, friends and knowledge you gain are better than living in fear.