This exchange sees six staff members moving from MFB to CFA and vice versa for a 24-month period. This program is designed to further improve interoperability and understanding between the two organisations.
As far as Leading Firefighter Ken Walker is concerned, the program is a great success. Five months ago he exchanged outer metropolitan life in Epping near the MFB/CFA border for a career at Mildura Fire Station near the border with New South Wales. This MFB firefighter is now proud to call himself CFA.
“I put up my hand for the secondment because I’d been a Melbourne firefighter for 24 years,” he says. “I just wanted a country lifestyle change and was looking forward to different challenges in the fire service.
“I arrived with my wife knowing no one, and was welcomed with open hands. It’s a very close-knit service up here and they socialise a lot with each other and the other emergency services. There have been barbecues and a ball. It couldn’t have been a warmer welcome.
“It’s been like starting a new job. The SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] are different. The water supply is different. The resourcing is different. Here we do hazmat, high angle rescue and trench rescue. I’ve done all of that with MFB but here we have to be a lot more self-sufficient. Everyone does more than one job at a callout.”
Ken has been most surprised by the sheer size of the area CFA covers. It’s a big change from working in an urban interface area, turning out twice a day on average to car accidents and for emergency medical response. Epping firefighters also attend a fair number of grassfires and Ken has enjoyed doing drills with volunteers from Craigieburn, Plenty and South Morang.
“We had a major incident here recently involving five cars and eight patients,” says Ken. “We had volunteers from Irymple and Red Cliffs as well as police, ambos and the CERT [Community Emergency Response] team. Resources were stretched across all the emergency services and it all went really well. I was really impressed with the coordinated response.”
Ken has been joined in Mildura by MFB Senior Station Officer Colin Holmes and, together with the rest of the crew, they’re supporting two new recruits to the career fire service with training, training and more training.
“We’re helping them get their skills up,” explains Ken, “but it’s also just as much for all the rest of us. Twice a week we train with the 40-odd active vols. We take the truck down to the river every Thursday night and come up with a scenario, practise running hoses and do command and control. There’s no time to get bored, that’s for sure.”
Ken also keeps busy with his work in juvenile fire awareness prevention, working with Mildura police and youth officers. “I was a trained practitioner in Melbourne and it’s great to bring those skills up here. It’s about trying to get young people back on track.
“On top of that, I’m lecturing in schools on fire safety alongside our two new recruits. It’s all part of the job.
“I hope the exchange runs for two full years. The weather’s fantastic. I’m close to town so I can walk everywhere. The food’s good and we’re indulging in the grapes, visiting wineries, doing a lot of travelling. It’s a good life.”
Read about Steve Warrington's visit to Mildura Fire Brigade in the Sunraysia Daily.
Read about Mildura brigade and Smokey, the wonder dog.