Talk about local knowledge on the CFA Connect forum
And what constitutes local knowledge on the urban/rural border of the Mornington Peninsula? Nev doesn’t hesitate. “It’s all about knowing your community – that’s the core principle. Just knowing the geography isn’t enough. You have to know the people you’re trying to protect. You have to know what they want and expect.”
After the exhausting weeks of response out of their brigade area in February and March 2009, the brigade arranged a community meeting. “I thought it was very important that we talked to the community,” says Nev who's been captain for 20 years. “All my members who fought the fires had experienced so much. It was important that they pass on their knowledge.
“Sometimes we underestimate the knowledge that’s built into a brigade. They can relate very well to your community if you’ve already got that connection and, in our case, we do. There was still a lot of nervousness and we wanted to connect with our neighbours, allay some of their fears and start to take them through the journey of recovery.”
But the information that Nev and the brigade got back from the community took them all by surprise. “I was amazed by the local knowledge we discovered when we talked about what people here would actually do in a fire: would they leave the night before? Did they have a plan?
“One of the biggest learning curves for me was that people move to a place like Moorooduc for the lifestyle and they weren’t just going to abandon that. A lot of people had worked all their lives for the opportunity to buy property and to have animals. They value that lifestyle and it’s a lot more complicated than just leaving the night before.”
The sobering lesson for Nev and other Moorooduc members was that people in their community would stay.
“It changed our interactions with the community,” continues Nev, “but our brigade wants that reality check. We do want people to work on their plans according to their true intentions. The reality is that different communities will react in different ways and here we think animals are the clincher. We’ve got horse studs, agistment, alpacas – every animal known to man – and families involved with animals won’t leave.”
Against that community background, Moorooduc brigade also looked at what it had learned from the 2009 fires. “A lot of knowledge was passed on from Ash Wednesday,” says Nev, “and any member since Black Saturday will constantly reinforce what they saw, what they did, what they could and couldn’t achieve.
“It was a hard thing as captain to send the trucks off to those fires and I’m still in awe of what was achieved and the level of expertise. The crews that stayed at home were just as important as crews on the front line.”
There have not been many large fires in the Moorooduc brigade area but there have been a lot of significant fires on the peninsula. Moorooduc has grown as a significant support brigade and has a proud tradition of strike team duty and Nev Jones is the first ever strike team leader.
“Members might come and go,” says Nev, “but we always strive to keep knowledge in the brigade. I try to get involved in training where you can pass on your knowledge. It’s about reinforcing long-held standards and striving for excellence. To serve your community, your foundation has to be strong.
“Staying connected to your community: that’s the key.”
Many thanks to Leigh Neale for gathering historic photos.