CFA Firefighters' State Memorial Service

A sombre, reverent atmosphere was created in the space of the auditorium at Federation University for the annual fire fighters memorial service attended by about 200 people from all over the state of Victoria, to remember those firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty. It was the first time it had been held in Churchill and was a significant event especially for the Churchill Brigade members.
There were members of the CFA Board, local politicians and Latrobe City Council representatives, those in prominent positions in CFA, local District 27 staff and brigade members.
Pastor Simon Fink conducted the service which began with the colour party of Churchill Brigade members Darlene Parkinson, Allan Larkin and Graeme Renwick carrying the flags to commands by Colour Party Commander Len Trawn. They were led in by piper Malcolm Bruce in a solemn ceremony which set the tone of hushed respectfulness which remained throughout the service.
Benjamin Clark sang the National Anthem before Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Board Member Samantha Rothman, also a firefighter with CFA Maryborough Fire Brigade, read the call to remembrance: “Friends, firefighters, we are gathered here in the sight of God, as loyal citizens of Australia, to honour the memory of those who have died in the service of the CFA and our state. As we have gathered at this time let us offer thanks to God, for the remembrance of sacrifice made by these members, some known to us, and others not known to us.
We will pray for those still mourning their sad loss. We ask that we continue to do our duty, and honourably walk in our service to the CFA and our communities”.

CFA Board Member Lynda Hamilton then spoke. “Today we come together for this deeply significant annual commemoration. It’s both humbling and a privilege to be here on this occasion, with the families of our 67 fallen firefighters, to acknowledge and thank you for the sacrifices you have made.
This commemoration provides an opportunity for loved ones, friends and brigade members to gather together and honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their communities. This year, we also commemorate the 35 years since the death, in the line of duty, of Darren McLean from the Churchill-Jeeralang Rural Fire Brigade. Darren was a young 17-year-old volunteer who was taken too soon. To Darren’s family, friends and brigade members, we extend our sincere condolences.
This memorial service is an important part of CFA’s history. While many of these services have been held at Fiskville [the closed training centre] in the presence of the Memorial Wall, it has also become a tradition to move the services around to regional centres. The tradition began in 1998 when the service was held in Bendigo and since then, thirteen other towns have subsequently hosted the service, including Wodonga last year.
The service is typically held on the Sunday closest to May 4, which is both the International Day of the Firefighter and St. Florian’s Day. In 250 AD, St. Florian organised and trained a group of elite soldiers whose duty was solely to fight fire. St. Florian is of course the patron saint of firefighters.
This commemoration is only one day in the year when we officially remember, whereas family, friends and fellow brigade members would be reminded of the gap in their lives, every day.
Our fallen firefighters were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and partners and friends. They had a deep sense of community and of duty. They were willing to sacrifice their own, just like Darren, to help others.
Their legacy lives on. Every day, regular women and men, with a desire to make a difference, leave their homes and families and risk their lives to ensure others are safe. These are people who override the natural human instinct for self-preservation and run towards danger as others are running away.
They are committed, selfless individuals, professional in what they do. Some may say this is heroism. And yet the fallen we honour today would probably have said that they were just ordinary people serving their community.
The actor, Christopher Reeve said that a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure, in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Perhaps this is a better way to define the spirit of our firefighters. All of you are united by an unbreakable bond of strength and sacrifice. Thank you to all CFA members for everything that you do, both on and off the fire ground. Know that Victorians are grateful for your work, even if their thanks are often unspoken.
Today is a time to see familiar faces, share the bonds of loss and pay tribute to our firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. We know that words cannot ease the pain of your loss but know that you are not alone. Communities across the state stand with you to pay their respects. These were extraordinary people… these were our extraordinary people, and we honour them here today”.
The service also included a solemn reading by CFA Acting Chief Officer Alen Slijepcevic of the name of each deceased firefighter as a bell was tolled by Operations Officer Shane Mynard.
Wreaths were then laid which included a wreath from Churchill Fire Brigade laid by Barry and Val McLean accompanied by two Brigade members, Ashleigh Caldwell and Rob Langston.
The service was concluded with the colour party collecting the flags and proceeding out of the auditorium to the accompaniment of the piper.
Families and guests were invited to light a candle in memory of a firefighter.
Talking with Val McLean, she found the service to be very good, especially enjoying Benjamin Clark’s singing. For her it was wonderful to have the service in Churchill after a long wait; not having to travel a long way even though she and Barry go each year. Val was pleased with the turn out. She appreciated there was an annual service saying the deceased firefighters should be remembered and not forgotten. Val felt sad and apprehensive but overall found it a wonderful occasion when they could meet up with people similarly affected.
Captain Steve Barling of Churchill Brigade found the service particularly moving, especially as there were additional members of the Churchill Brigade able to attend to honour the memory of Darren McLean. He offered thanks to all who had helped in any way to organise and present the day.
Peer Support
Among the crowd were CFA members who are also members of the Peer Support Team. Their role was to be present and help any attendee who was emotionally affected or presented with other concerns. Their task at any time is to be there for members and their families who have any issues (both brigade and personal) they wish to talk about in a support or diffusing role. They are there to support or to refer on for more detailed help.
Because they are also brigade members they know firsthand what the firefighters will have experienced or may even have experienced similar things themselves, so they can be aware, be sympathetic and empathetic.
In Districts 10, 11, and 27 there are 24 Peer Support team members. At the conclusion of the ceremony the wreaths were transferred to the Darren McLean memorial at Churchill Fire Station.