It was definitely a labour of love for the association this year, but feedback from the 150 or so Bushfire Volunteers who attended the 2019 WAFES Volunteer Conference from all over WA seemed pleased with the outcome.
From the feedback we received from Members, the registration process was certainly the area of most concern – and that issue is on the agenda for a debrief meeting DFES has already arranged for us and all the other peak bodies that worked hard as part of the organising committee over the past nine months.
The first day of the WAFES Conference – Friday 6 September – began for many volunteers with tours of local emergency services and other points of interest. Those who went seemed to enjoy it, but again, we received a fair bit of feedback about the registration process not being ideal and in particular, the number of places available to be booked. While those volunteers who could get on a tour spent the day learning, listening and sharing, some of our volunteer committee were joined by a few wonderful volunteer friends (Terri and Marie) who helped set up the Bushfire Volunteers booth in the exhibition hall.
Friday night saw the Conference welcome sundowner in the Exhibition Hall and by all reports, was a success.
The main conference started Saturday morning with a wonderful Welcome to Country and official speeches from Emergency Services Minister Hon Fran Logan MLA and FES Commissioner Darren Klemm.
The Association was especially pleased with the Commissioner’s speech that repeatedly reinforced some of the key messages Bushfire Volunteers has worked hard to have heard, understood and accepted by government for many years.
It was truly wonderful to hear the Commissioner tell the audience of volunteers and paid staff “The differences we all have are our strengths,” “We may wear different uniforms from time to time and have different cultures – we need to respect that,” and “Volunteers are at the centre of all we do. Wearing a uniform or working for DFES doesn’t make you an expert in emergency services.”
The exhibition hall opened at the same time, with many fantastic displays and booths to explore, including the awesome South Yunderup Volunteer Bushfire Boat below.
The day was filled with presentations and discussions loosely categorised by volunteer “stream”. These diverse presentations were determined by the representatives from each association (Bush Fire Service, VFRS, VFES, SES and VMRS) during the 9 months of meetings prior to the event.
One of the most popular for the Bush Fire Service was a panel discussion about what had been achieved since the Special Inquiry into the 2016 Waroona Fires (the Ferguson review).
DFES’s Craig Waters, Mal Cronstedt and Tim McNaught, DBCA’s Stefan de Haan and Bushfire Volunteers’ President Dave Gossage shared the stage for the discussion during which a number of valuable issues were raised and addressed.
Saturday night saw the first ever combined services awards event, with more than 700 attendees from all of WA’s emergency services, the State Government and industry stakeholders.
It was great to see Emergency Services Minister Hon Fran Logan MLA letting his hair down – oh, well, as much as us follicly challenged gentlemen can do anyway – and share some casual banter with the audience, including a jibe about the “Fran and Darren roadshow” that has meant the Minister and Commissioner have seen more of each other than their families in the last year.
It wasn’t long before the awards got underway and while we know that there simply isn’t enough gold to make medals for all of our deserving members, Bushfire Volunteers was extremely proud of those who were specifically honoured.
The first Bush Fire category was the Youth Achievement Award, with two wonderfully qualified nominees – Charli Campbell-Warr from the Dwellingup BFB Cadets and Jarred Kowal from the Bunbury BFB and VFRS.
As we said, in our book there simply isn’t enough awards to go to all those who deserve them and as a result, Jarred Kowal from the Bunbury BFB and VFRS was awarded the Youth Achievement badge for this year.
The other big award of the night was the annual Murray Lang Bush Fire Service Award, announced by the wonderful co-MC Mr Russell Wolfe.
While every nominee was more than worthy, the prestigious honour this year was awarded to Ted Rastrick from the Bornholm Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade. Congratulations Ted!