Young fire-fighters inspire

Fire ready: Ellie Pearce and Tom Mendes were involved in assisting with the Grantville fires and are proud to be members of the San Remo CFA.

SAN Remo CFA fire-fighters Ellie Pearce and Tom Mendes would encourage any young people to get involved with their local brigade.

Having both completed their VCE last year, Ellie at Newhaven College and Tom at Wonthaggi Secondary College, both agree the CFA training at San Remo has been so valuable and both enjoy giving back to their local community.

While Ellie would have relished helping out her local team at the recent Grantville bushfires, she was more than happy to have been on call to make sure her local community was safe too.

She said she was assigned to two strike teams to head out to the Grantville bushfires but they were not needed.

“I really wanted to put all my skills to the test and help out. I know a lot of people in the Grantville area who were impacted by the fire and I just wanted to help,” she said

Tom on the other hand attended the Grantville fire on its first day, Friday, February 1 for the initial fire fight and returned on the following Monday to assist with ‘blacking out’ the hot spots that remained.

It wasn’t Tom’s first big fire battle as he has assisted the San Remo brigade putting out several fires in  the two years he have been a member, from house fires to bushfires.

“Each are different though,” he said.

Tom also said, “It’s humbling to know that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we can call for support from neighbouring brigades. Many of us are friends outside of CFA, so we get along like a house on fire (excuse the pun).

“We are all there for the same reason- we have some skills which are useful for the fire fight and we want to use them for the good of the community.

The Star asked Tom to explain how he felt heading to the Grantville fire and after helping to tackle the fires.

“On the way to a fire, we all spend the travel time differently. I pre-emptively put a P2 mask on (smoke filter that covers mouth and nose), put my gloves on (to loosen them) and listen to the radio to get an idea of what we’re going to expect.

“My number one advice when you’re going to a large fire is to drink half a bottle of water and take some deep breaths- adrenaline is an incredibly powerful chemical, but you don’t want it when you have to make life or death decisions.

“Your greatest asset on the fire ground is your training and experience, and adrenaline will lead you to make some very poor decisions.”

Asked if he was scared at any stage while fighting the Grantville fire and Tom  said, “ Any emergency services member, professional or volunteer, who says they have never been scared is lying.

“Not so much scared for their own safety, but more so for the safety of someone’s house, a person trapped in their car or for an individual themselves.

“Safety is paramount in CFA culture, and we routinely rehearse scenarios and the life saving actions that we can do in response.

“On the Friday (the first day of the Grantville fire) I was the designated driver for Wonthaggi Fire Brigade’s captain, who was the sector commander for the Adam’s Estate area.

“As there were several homes on the park’s fringe, he had to organise the nine trucks which were assigned to him in a way that would protect all of the houses. On the following Monday, I was assigned to the Corinella tanker and we worked alongside the highway side of the fire to black out any hot spots that remained, preventing risk of reignition.”

Ellie can’t speak highly enough of her brigade and is proud to be following a family tradition in the CFA with dad Ric Pearce who has been heavily involved with the local brigade and her uncle Mark Thiele, captain of the San Remo CFA.

It has also been a busy time for Ric who is head of Newhaven College Year 9 and in the last couple of weeks has been flat juggling his school commitments and his duty, assisting the fire fighting efforts at  Grantville.

“Dad was involved in the Black Saturday bushfires, I would have been nine at the time and I remember asking him, ‘Why do you have to be involved in the CFA?’‘Why can’t you just play cricket?’

Ellie said it is a bit of a family saying now when they have to go out to a fire, “Why can’t you just play cricket?”

“It was only because I was so worried,” she said.

Ellie joined the brigade at 16 years of age and said the big reason was that she has grown up with the CFA with her family so involved.

“I have learned it is important to give back to your community in a meaningful way.”

Ellie said she learned this from her parents but also praised Newhaven College where she was schooled since Year 1.

“Newhaven College has always been so supportive of my involvement in the CFA and one of the core values of the school is to give back to the community.

“Mrs Lovell (Gea Lovell, Newhaven College principal) in particular is always very supportive and encouraging.”

Ellie said Mrs Lovell was always interested in her involvement in the CFA and would ask how it was all is going and how I was going especially after a fire.

“It is full credit to Mrs Lovell and the college that it encourages students to give back to their community.”

As for her college friends she said there were lots of messages of support during the Grantville fires.

“My friends have been really good with their stay safe messages. Lots of my friends are volunteering, many with the local surf life saving club (Woolamai Beach) and know how important this is.”

Ellie said she has learned so much from being a member of the local CFA, so many skills during their Tuesday evening and Sunday training sessions.

“Each year we have to do burn over drills to be prepared for a time where you may be stuck in a fire and how to stay safe and get out.

“We learn how to fight fires and how to approach fires while keeping ourselves and our team members safe.

“We have a great team at San Remo and I trust all members that they will have my back always while on a fire and I will definitely have theirs too.

“Everyone at the brigade is so competent and I really trust them all.”

Ellie said she would encourage other young people to get involved in their local brigade.

“It isn’t all hard work, we do also have a lot of fun and my brigade is always so encouraging.

“During my VCE I decided I couldn’t go to every fire and every training session and that I would dedicate most of my time to my studies but  I still made sure I was available and a couple of hours a week is not that much to give to your community.”

Now she has completed her schooling Ellie is looking forward to furthering her studies at Monash University where she will be taking on a double degree in engineering and science, majoring in astro physics .

She is aiming high alright, with as her dream job being an astronautical engineer.

This specialised job places special emphasis on astrodynamics, aerospace systems design and control systems.

“The job involves a lot of delegating, team work and skills and a lot of that experience I can take from the CFA,” Ellie said.

Tom has been an active member of the San Remo CFA for just over two years having joined the the brigade in February 2017.

He  said, “What we do is seldom a tear-jerking scene from Backdraft  or Chicago Fire.

“For every hour we spend on the fire ground, there is another 10 hours that we spend training, maintaining equipment and doing administration tasks for the brigade.

“In the interests of any young people wishing to join our community service, they should understand it is not all ‘lights and sirens’ action but if they are willing to accept this though, CFA can become a second family, and there are valuable skills which they can learn and practise whilst helping the community around them.

“The CFA is the perfect mix of community involvement, outdoor fitness, hands on learning and opportunity of meeting people.”

Asked what is the best part of being a member of your local brigade and Tom said,  “the camaraderie”.

“On the fireground, a lot of us don’t even have to talk to each other because we all know exactly what each other is about to do. You go through thick and thin together, and I’m sure that they all feel the exactly the same way.”

Tom is also furthering his studies in Melbourne and will start his first year of university enrolling for his  Bachelor of Paramedicine.

As to whether he will continue with the CFA after assisting with the Grantville fires and Tom said while he will be studying in Melbourne his involvement with San Remo brigade will be reduced.

 “However I hope to attend weekly training in an integrated station while I’m up there, just to maintain my training and have an outlet from university studies”, he said.

As to advice to the people in the local community about the importance of preparing for fires:

“It is absolutely paramount. It takes just half an hour per week to prepare your house, and that could save both your life and property. Mow your lawns, clean out your gutters, trim trees so our trucks can get through, and create your bushfire survival plan”.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=27450

Posted by on Feb 12 2019. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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