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.
By Annabel Tellis Tunley