But in March, hundreds of CFA volunteers lent a hand when floods inundated many towns in Victoria’s north east.
Barmah Brigade Captain Christina Jackson said their motto at that time was ‘be prepared’.
“We were lucky in the end not to be impacted but we were also prepared. I5 could have been very serious but the community pulled together. There were a lot of positives to be taken out of it for our community as a whole.”
Christina estimated the Barmah Brigade piled up 20,000 - 30,000 sandbags to protect 60 houses in low lying areas.
“I couldn’t be there all the time but we had members there every day.”
Christina said the juniors were also there helping out with sandbagging.
“We all learnt things – it’s the first flood I’ve been involved in. The first time someone said to me ‘you’re a sector commander’ I didn’t know what to do but it’s like anything, you just look back to your training and treat it like any other situation.
“I had a lot of back up through the whole CFA system, there were plenty of people I could count on for advice.”
Christina said the opportunity to work with volunteers from other brigades mean learning more new skills.
“We spent a day over at Wilby outside Tungamah to help with flood mapping. We measured out the scale of the flooding and documented which fence lines were down and where fencing had completely disappeared.”
On top of the flood support effort, the brigade, run solely by volunteers, had a reasonably busy fire season.
“I’m proud to say the Barmah Brigade answered every call over the season,” Christine said.
“Not bad considering we only have 14 firefighters and almost all of us work.”
Volunteers from the Cobram Brigade were also committed to helping flood affected areas.
“We put in a fair commitment behind the scenes filling sandbags at the Shire depot. It was five days straight and up to eight hours most days. It was a great team effort right across the board.”
Among the volunteers were senior volunteers, new recruits and 16 and 17 year olds who had just come through CFA’s Advance Secondary School Program – even the older volunteers were lending a hand with one 82-year-old helping wherever he could.
The volunteers also went out to Numurkah and Nathalia supporting night shift crews.
“When a phone call came through I would get a crew together. For me, it was a bit of a logistical exercise. I had to think about mixing and matching to make sure we had a skill base back home that would allow us to respond if there was a local incident.”
Husband and wife team John and Dossie Parnell worked tirelessly with other Katamatite volunteers during the floods, dedicating all their time to protecting the town. They helped out residents, led community meetings and took calls in the middle of the night.
Dossie said before they knew it a week had passed. And that wasn’t the first time.
“Back in ’93 I sandbagged when I was nine months pregnant – but that flood had nothing on this one. This time I’d never seen water come up so fast. A number of brigades were cut off. One used a canoe to get to the fire station and another used a tractor,” Dossie said.
“Four of us stayed in the town while others canoed in to pick up sand bags and rowed them back out to their ute parked just outside. But it was worth it – they saved a house.”