Dave Howell, Captain of the Brigade

dave fire Dave

I head down to the Apollo Bay Fire Station to speak to Dave Howell, born firey. He is the Captain and has instant light in his eyes as he jumps straight into talking about his clear vocation.

I was lucky enough to be asked by the Bendigo Bank to write and highlight the role that the CFA plays in our everyday life and to raise awareness of the dedication of its members. As a community I am embarrassed to say that before I began, I didn’t think too deeply about our local lads and lassies who put their lives on the line for us. I knew that they had to do a we owe it to our brigade volunteers to give them the best equipment they can possibly have to help them help others. bit more than point a hose at flames; I’d seen exhaustion in their faces when they had returned back to town from a callout, but I had honestly taken them for granted and I won’t anymore.

Dave and I stand around the rescue vehicle for one and a half hours. To the untrained eye, the rescue vehicle looks like a fire truck. It’s the vehicle that they take to a car crash, rescue or accident. He shows me the kit that they have to wear; there are several different outfits depending on the nature of the incident, the strongest of which, for fighting fires, is totally heat proof. Dave shows me the face visor on the helmet that he was wearing to attend a recent fire in Skenes Creek. It is completely black; cooked.

I can’t really describe our long chat as an interview. It was more a quick education for me in humility. Dave and his fellow fireys (and there aren’t that many of them anymore, numbers are really dwindling) put themselves at the very apex of danger to help others. They are highly trained, they don’t get paid and without them many of us wouldn’t be where we are.

Although we talk at length, we agree to keep this article short and sweet because once I begin going into detail, it could take on a life of its own; there is so much to say. I know that it is always good to keep the reader wanting more and indeed more can be discovered at the Bendigo Bank Red Balloon Day Fundraiser that will take place on the 20th of November.

So in a nutshell, I talked to our captain about all things firey that lie close to his heart. He wants to be able to buy a pair of battery operated ‘Jaws of Life.’ These are like gigantic scissors that cut through metal in seconds. There are politics involved in this regarding Australian standards and he would love to cut through that too. As the man on the ground he instinctively knows what is best.

He tells me about individual cases when he has had to make big life-changing decisions on behalf of the CFA (which in our town is also the SES). He has to have and has very strong shoulders. He mentioned when a Spaceship van (no not a real spaceship, he’s not that superhuman, though nearly) and a milk tanker collided near Maits Rest. It sounded like he was describing a bad dream, you know, those ones when you are in charge and there are so many decisions to make and fellow helpers are thin on the ground. Unlike us, Dave wakes up with the smell of the crash in his hair.

He wants to keep bettering his skills and he wants others to do the same by being available to go further afield for training and experience. He loves that new people sign up to become members but hates that their lives are too busy for them to be able to help when the call comes. Often it is the same people who answer the call, week in week out.

I ask him how people can join up as volunteers and he says just come to the station and talk to him. There are different jobs for everyone to do, horses for courses.

Dave himself has attended over 600 callouts since being in the brigade and yet doesn’t want any adulation from me or anyone. It is just what he does. He speaks very highly of all the members of his team and the close bond that they share is palpable.

In detail he tells me about what must have been his toughest test so far, the rope rescue with stretcher, at the bottom of the cliff at Cape Patton. There is so much science behind rope rescuing (weights, distances and safety factors) and First Aid skills have to be considered too. For 8 hours the Apollo Bay Fire Brigade worked tirelessly to save a woman’s life and Dave relives his decisions and clearly loves the fact that, in spite of concern from senior staff at the end of the telephone, he showed them all what his fantastic team is capable of and the woman was saved.

I don’t want to ruin any secrets but I do need to tell members of our wonderful community that on the 6th December our brigade will be receiving the CFA unit Citation for Service. This is a rare award, for service worthy of special recognition and is given by the Chief Officers of the CFA. It acknowledges ‘A collective act of understanding service during a special event over a prolonged period of time.’

Our Firemen and women have been punching above their weight in terms of bravery for many years. We must all be very proud of them.

Annabel Tellis


By Annabel Tellis Tunley


Meloney Dacey-Howell, partner of Dave, Captain of the Apollo Bay Fire Brigade


Bendigo Bank are hoping to raise funds and public appreciation for the fire fighters of Apollo Bay. This year, the Apollo Bay Fire Brigade is the equivalent of the bank’s ‘hero’ product and they want to buy our heroes a quad bike to help make some of their jobs easier.
They asked me to nip round to Meloney Dacey-Howell’s house to ask her about her role as the partner of one of the firey’s and how it affects her life. An hour later I went home quite a different person, my head spinning with thanks for all that the Apollo Bay Fire Brigade stand for and gratefulness for the sacrifices that families in this town make in order that we are all looked after.
Dave is the captain of the brigade and I realise that I have only seen him a few times in my years in Apollo Bay. The thing about the work of a firey is that it all goes on either behind closed doors, away down the road, or in wide open spaces and rarely happens in front of all our eyes. The fire station itself is tucked away round the back and Father Christmas’s arrival in a gleaming red truck at the Kinder is the closest I have had to understanding what the fireys do (thank God).
Meloney began and finished making dinner in the space of five minutes when I arrived, putting an egg and bacon pie in the oven before we sat down. She is as efficient as the best domestic goddess because she has to be; she never knows when the call will come in for Dave to go out, it’s no longer an inconvenience but a way of life.
Commitment is a word that springs up and stays in our conversation from the beginning. There are these people in our town who are committed to our safety like Guardian Angels. I dare to ask whether they receive any financial incentives for their risky actions and Mel’s eyes widen as she says (and please read this bit over twice) ‘Being a member of the CFA in Apollo Bay is 100% voluntary’.
‘So your partner and his fellow members are risking their lives for us, sacrificing time with their families, keeping up with their training schedules, lobbying for grants, reporting, emailing and being ready to down tools at any moment without even getting a token of our thanks in their wallets?’
‘That’s right’ Meloney says and she goes on to praise all the employers of fireys  for allowing their employees to miss ‘real’ work for the work of the CFA.
‘Are they still getting paid for their real work when they are away with the CFA?’ I ask.
‘Oh no, you wouldn’t expect them to.’
‘So, these men and women who take their own lives in their hands to save others and who expect their own families to understand their calling, not only don’t get paid but lose pay, because of the critical needs of the rest of us in the community. Is that true?’
Mel nods and smiles and tells me that as a former member of the CFA herself she knows why her husband and everyone else do it and it isn’t for any financial reward. She says it is for the sheer satisfaction of knowing that you have made a big difference to someone’s life or that you have actually saved someone’s life. That is satisfaction in itself and is at the very basis of the calling to be a firey.
She sees her own role now as a sounding board for the captain of the fire brigade and a support behind the scenes. He and his crew head out to the suicide, the cliff rescue, the car crash, the fire, without a second thought for themselves and then return to their normal lives having seen things which we hope we never do. She knows that Dave thinks he is lucky to have a family to go back to as that keeps him on the straight and narrow but he does worry sometimes about those fireys without a back up crew at home. Some of the things that they see can change them and the CFA have counselling programmes to help everyone cope. The fact that our fire brigade is also our SES means that double stress is put on our volunteers.
I ask whether she ever worries about Dave’s safety when he is gone and she says that she knows that he has an excellent team of men and women whom he trusts implicitly and who are trained in safety to the nth degree. They train twice a week when the rest of us are resting.
We chat away about when her first baby was three weeks old; Dave went to fight the fires in Sydney leaving his Mum and Aunty as support for a week. Another time, a call at Christmas dinner meant that six of the twelve diners upped and left the turkey (there are a few fireys in Dave’s family).
One point that Mel really wants to get across is that none of the fireys have tickets on themselves. They are all modest in their heroism and they find it to be a very fulfilling role to have. That in itself is their reward and she doesn’t want me to be paying homage to them like they are Supermen and Wonderwomen.
But she can forget that. On the 20th of November there is going to be a fundraising event held in this town to celebrate the work that our quiet, modest “Super-wonder-heroes” do and we must dig deep into our pockets to help them buy equipment to make their lives easier. The Bendigo Bank have said they will match whatever we raise although the appearance of a firey in times of great need is almost priceless.
Mel says that Dave would dearly like to buy some lightweight tools for the fire station because cliff rescues are hampered by the weight of heavy hydraulic pumps and cutting equipment.
I pray that I never lose control of my car and end up on the rocks below Cape Patton but if I did, the face I would want to see first would be that of an Apollo Bay fire brigade volunteer. They are like earth-angels ensuring that we don’t get to meet the heavenly version too soon. Thank you so much to the partners, families and friends of the fireys for ensuring that their wings keep working for our sakes.

By Annabel Tellis

Bob Mason, Apollo Bay Fire Brigade Member 1959-the present

Bob mason

Apollo Bay is a coast-hugging town on the Great Ocean Road. It is a jewel in the Otways where the mountains roll gently to the sea. I have been given the privilege of writing about the quiet heroes among us here, who rush to help in accidents and who protect this most tranquil place from nature’s most ferocious element, fire.

Today I am to meet Bob Mason. I am not given any introduction to him and he is intrigued as to what this is all about. We arrange to meet at the Fire Station. I get the feeling that he is not a man to stand on ceremony and prefers to keep his achievements under wraps.

He meets me outside and we go in. Suddenly I am like a child staring up at four fire appliances. Such a little town, so many fire trucks! Bob introduces me to each and I learn about their capabilities including fire fighting, rescue and support. The Bendigo Bank is gearing up for a big fundraiser for the fireys and it’s hoped that we will see a quad bike parked under this roof soon too.

Bob shows me the communications room which used to be permanently manned, the kitchen and the meeting room where we pull up 2 chairs at a table for 22.

There is a meeting here for all the local firemen and firewomen once a month. Bob tells me that every one of them is a volunteer and it is a big ask. The Apollo Bay brigade cover the area from Hordern Vale to Grey River; around the Otways they crossover and intermingle with neighbouring brigades.

I am intrigued that he uses the name ‘brigade’ as I thought that it was the CFA we were talking about. I love the word ‘brigade’, it is seldom heard now. He wants me to get this right. The CFA or Country Fire Authority, is the governing body that the fire brigade in Apollo Bay volunteers to.

Fire brigading for Bob began just a few years ago, in 1959, the year that fire fighting officially began in this sleepy town. Unofficially it started before the World War 2, then it was disbanded and reformed. Now it is bigger and brighter than ever although with modern technology to share information, it isn’t the bustling centre that it once was.

In the beginning the Fire Station was a butterfly roof building and the old shed still remains. The only appliance then was a hose reel on big wheels, a hose and hydrants all pulled along by members.

Then came the front mounted Dodge with the open cabin and everyone hanging on and after that an ex Forestry Commission tanker from Beech Forest. The worst fire in Apollo Bay was when the Apollo Bay hotel went up. It is hard to imagine.

In the late 80’s the fire brigade were approached to become a rescue brigade and everyone retrained to meet the new demands. The first road accident rescue vehicle was bought by a member on behalf of the brigade, at Fowl’s auctions.

Bob reels off the names of each and every trail blazing captain that he was worked with. But he laments that there has always been a high turnover of volunteers due to people moving in and out of town frequently.

Over the years, thanks to the dedication of so many who walk among us, the fire station has blossomed, grown and become better equipped. But a new quad bike would be a cherry on the big red cake. To donate you can pop into the Bendigo Bank, an online account is under construcion.  The bank board have agreed to match the funds that we raise. (Shhhh- let’s make them regret they said that!)

As we say our goodbyes he says that being a firey is a job that you have to want to do. I turn and think ‘thank goodness there are people in this town with that calling.’

by Annabel Tellis