FIREFIGHTERS from Mitchell Shire and the City of Whittlesea were among those honoured at a Spirit of CFA Awards ceremony earlier this month.
The awards recognised the contributions of CFA, Country Fire Authority, members across a variety of categories from community engagement to innovation, with awards for both individuals and teams.
Retrospective 2020 awards were presented alongside 2022 awards after the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 ceremony.
Among the firefighters awarded were CFA district 12 commander Justin Dally, district 12 assistant chief fire officer Rob van Dorsser and Hilldene Fire Brigade second lieutenant Jake Kociancic, who picked up the 2022 team Excellence in Interagency or Group Cooperation Award.
Also recognised were Wandong Fire Brigade’s Caitlin Roberts and Epping Fire Brigade’s Liam Gallagher, who were 2020 joint winner and 2022 winner respectively of the youth award.
Mr Dally, Mr van Dorsser and Mr Kociancic picked up their award for a collaborative approach to fighting a fire at Puckapunyal Primary School in December 2020.
Agencies including the CFA, Fire Rescue Victoria, Military Police, Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, Victoria State Emergency Service and private firefighters contracted by Ventia all responded to the blaze.
CFA chief executive Natalie MacDonald said the district 12 leadership team and Hilldene Fire Brigade drove the response and helped save most of the school through teamwork and interoperability.
She said cooperation between firefighters and military personnel before the fire laid the groundwork for a successful operation.
“CFA members identified that an incident at this site would be complex so a great deal of work went into developing a memorandum of understanding between CFA and the Department of Defence for the Puckapunyal Military Area,” she said.
“There was a lot of engagement to familiarise the neighbouring brigade, Hilldene, with the site, its processes and personnel.”
Ms MacDonald said the groups also reviewed their response to assess what worked well and what needed improvement.
Mr Kociancic is a full-time Australian Defence Force member in addition to being a firefighter and lives at Puckapunyal. He was the incident controller and played a central role during the firefight.
“It was clear from the outset that CFA was going to end up being the control agency for this incident, so my team and I had to engage with many key stakeholders to get the job done,” he said.
“I was lucky to be incident controller that day. A lot of work had been done by the district 12 [operations] team and group management team prior to the event. Everything worked very well.”
Wandong Fire Brigade member Caitlin Roberts said she was humbled to be a co-winner of the 2020 Youth Award.
Described by her peers as a kind and hardworking volunteer who always looked out for others, she said she was simply ‘doing what I can for CFA and the community’.
Ms Roberts joined Wandong Fire Brigade juniors in 2016 at age 11 and in 2018 was elected junior captain before later stepping down to allow another junior member to hold the position.
“After being a captain, I learned to see things from someone else’s perspective,” she said.
“I had done my time and this was his last shot at being captain before becoming a senior member. I wanted him to have the same opportunity that I did in his final year as a junior.”
Ms Roberts competed as part of CFA Team Yankee at the Australian Fire Cadet Championships and is now a senior member of the brigade.
“My dad has been in CFA since being a junior and CFA has always been in my life. I went to the station with him and I was always interested in it,” she said.
“My involvement with CFA is partly a family tradition and partly to give back to the community, to do something to help those who need it.”