CFA volunteers commended for firefighting efforts

By Jamieson Salter

A northern Victorian volunteer firefighter has risked his life fighting fires in Singleton, Greta, East Gippsland and Taree.

“We’re not there for ourselves, we just came to help the community,” said George Calleja, the CFA captain at Bamawm Extension, near Echuca.

His strike team helped save the small town of Greta but encountered difficulties when the townspeople began a late evacuation.

“People hadn’t left when they had the warnings, that was one of the biggest problems,” he said.

“When it did come, they all tried to get out at the last minute which made it really hard for the emergency services, but we got in there.”

Alongside another strike team, they discovered a shed and a shipping container alight, and a house under immediate threat.

“The fire was heading towards a long line of 40 homes, so I sent two tankers in and they got to the head of it and stopped it, working with three helicopters and a bomber,” Mr Calleja said.

His Region 20 team was later sent to the Taree district where NSW Parks staff led them to Failford.

“As we were getting to it, the plume was getting bigger and bigger,” Mr Calleja said.

“We needed at least 20 tankers but we only had five so we asked for more and the RFS came to assist us.

“When we got there the fire was just hitting at the back of the houses but we got it under control.

“About 4 o’clock we moved to Krambach to protect assets from a fire coming down extremely high hills.”

Mr Calleja said he was impressed with the new wave of volunteer firefighters.

“We had younger team members on their first strike team but they were really well trained and were right to go.”

Mr Calleja also led strike teams and worked as sector commander in East Gippsland, leading firefighters from the United States.

Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria chief executive officer Adam Barnett said volunteers had made an incredible contribution this summer.

“To be able to support interstate colleagues and then instantly redeploy to our own fires back home demonstrates the incredible size, strength and capacity of our world-renowned volunteer model,” Mr Barnett said.