Six months ago Jamie, Sam Ryan and Claire Johnson began visiting members of the Strathewen Arthurs Creek brigades to talk about their experiences during the 2009 campaign fires.
Seriously affected on Black Saturday, Strathewen and Arthurs Creek members have been sharing not just the events of the day, but the lead up and the recovery efforts.
“I think there were lessons to be learnt from everybody and I wanted volunteers at Anglesea to hear what they had been through,” Jamie said.
“The stories…you can imagine the emotion. I feel very privileged to have been allowed in to hear their story. It was amazingly powerful stuff.
“I’m involved with leadership development and got a lot of stuff to take back to the brigade from the captain and former captain. There are some amazing lessons in leadership from those two when under fire, so to speak.”
Since the first meeting between the brigade members in February a mutual trust has been built and members involved on Black Saturday have been able to share their experiences.
“The brigade made it clear that they wanted their story to help other people. A lot of our people who listened had tears in their eyes. They’re an inspiration. These people just went out there and did it. It needed to be done and they went out and did it,” Jamie said.
“This was a big step for them. It was the first time they’d set up to talk publicly. You could see them becoming more open.”
Strathewen Captain Michael Chapman echoes Jamie’s sentiments.
“The reason we started these meetings to share what we’d learnt having been one of the worst bushfires ever known and we’d been, for a long part, on our own and had to rely on our own resources to fight the fire and assist the community in recovery. We thought we should share this information because unfortunately it will happen to someone else.”
Michael said the brigade had relived the whole event, from preparation before February 7 to what they did on the day and what they did in the five weeks after the fire.
“We’ve talked about it among ourselves but when you get in a formal group you hear things around the table you didn’t know – where people were on the day, what they did, what their role was,” he said.
“We spent a lot of time talking about recovery and, although some people might not think that a brigade should be involved, we're community first. There was no other way we could go apart from through that stage to help our community recover.
“A lot more has come out of these meetings than we ever anticipated. Even though it's three years on, we’ve been able to share a lot in a comfortable and friendly environment.”
Michael said his initial apprehension to go ahead with the meetings quickly disappeared.
“I was the new captain, and there I was making those decisions to go through this process. I thought I was either going to get hung or it was going to work well. We’ve had tremendous response from our members. Jamie had to gain everybody’s confidence, which he did very quickly, and something that was a hassle was then something people looked forward to. I can’t say enough about how good he has been,” he said.