They're the ultimate public servants. Decked out in their flame-resistant green overalls, DSE firefighters face the frontline when our state's forests, parks and reserves are literally under fire.
The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) is charged with the critical task of overseeing Victoria's public land and natural resources. It might sound simple enough, but when you've got to keep a watchful eye over some 7.7 million hectares of land, it's no mean feat.
As part of Victoria's fire and emergency management response capacity, DSE must be constantly at the ready in case fires start in any of Victoria's parks, forests, reserves or catchments.
So who are these people keeping our state safe?
In addition to permanent staff, hundreds of people are recruited by DSE for a few months each fire season to help combat bushfires. They also undertake critical preventative measures like planned burning. They are known as Project Firefighters.
The first-timer: Meet Naomi Gash
Naomi Gash had an eventful summer break. While all her uni friends took overseas trips and travelled, Naomi decided to stay put and sign up for DSE's Project Firefighter program.
Having been referred to the program by an enthusiastic friend, Naomi was looking forward to spending her holidays in the great outdoors instead of being cooped up in an office.
"I was really looking forward to working in a team, and being outside with other people," she says.
Naomi, who is studying outdoor education at La Trobe University in Bendigo, admits she was nervous about signing up for a job traditionally reserved for burly blokes.
"It's mostly guys, and there was only one other girl and she was at the Horsham depot," she says.
"But people were really supportive, and all the guys really helped me. They wouldn't put you down if you couldn't do something, and in the end I became really good friends with the people I was working with."
After attending a five-day training camp, where she learnt all about fire behaviour and strategies for dealing with an active blaze, Naomi set about clearing tracks, maintaining vehicles and tackling bushfires across Victoria.
Forget wrought-iron fireplaces and neatly chopped wood logs - fuelled by wild gums and stringy bark, the fires of the bush are a force to be reckoned with.
For Naomi, the challenging task was a thrilling experience. "Sure, I was nervous for all the fires we went to, but then again, I always felt safe," she says.
"Mostly, it was just exciting."
A good firefighter, according to Naomi, is someone who can work hard, but also make sure the team is having fun. Since returning to her studies, it's this camaraderie that Naomi misses the most.
"I didn't like that I had to leave! You get so used to working every day with the same people, and coming back to the classroom and not being outside has been tough. I get a bit annoyed that I'm no longer out there, and that I have to be in the library while they are out there burning off!"
Well, there's always next year…
The veteran: Meet Sam Horsman
Unlike novice Naomi, Sam Horsman is an experienced DSE firefighter. Currently working as a crew leader at Olinda in the Dandenongs, Sam started out as a Project Firefighter recruit, and has risen through the ranks to manage a team of about 12 people.
It's this team environment, he says, that makes the work so enjoyable.
"A good team is a motivated one, really. We have all sorts of people from all types of backgrounds, and it's a really good group atmosphere," he says. "There is a lot of mateship."
On a personal level, Sam has relished the opportunity to improve his own knowledge of forestry and fire management while completing new and varied jobs on a daily basis.
"It's important for me to make sure my understanding and knowledge is up to scratch, so the whole team can feel safe under my leadership," he says.
So, what's the best part of the job?
"It's just the best job - every day is a good day. There are always new and different jobs, and it's just so varied."
For anyone interested in trying their luck as a Project Firefighter, Sam has some sage advice.
"Don't be afraid of it, it's a really warm and welcoming industry. Don't limit yourself to your local area because it's a really good way to go all over the state. Get out to the farther regions of Victoria."
Want to join up?
So, think you've got what it takes?
If you're interested, make sure you have a current manual driver's licence and a good work ethic, as well as a high level of fitness. You're going to need some serious stamina out there in the bush!
If you've already had some experience with bush/grassland firefighting, have a current first aid certificate, or know how to handle a chainsaw, bulldozer or 4WD, then the DSE wants you.
Applications for the 2010 Project Firefighter program will open in August 2010 for the 2010 season. The season generally runs from the end of November until the beginning of March.
Check out the DSE's Project Firefighter page (new window) or call 13 61 86 for more information about applying for the Project Firefighter program.
Articles Written by Alexandra
Reviews written by Alexandra
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