AN INADVERTENT fire in a Rheola school yard led to a young Mark Gilmore joining a junior team of firefighters.
More than 40 years later the CFA operations manager and regional commander for the Loddon Mallee has received an Australian Fire Service Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
“I am absolutely thrilled. They don’t (get awarded) very often and the people who have them, I hold in high esteem,” he said.
“In the 1960s, children did work in school yard. We were emptying the incinerators and the ashes kindled and blew into a crop, which nearly burnt the town down.
“Members of the local brigade thought it was a good idea that I become a junior member. I joined the junior team and became a volunteering before attending my first real fire when I was 16.”
His junior service led on to more volunteer firefighting service and other CFA roles before Mr Gilmore began working in fire management.
In 2001, the Kingower firefighter joined the CFA operations team and began working fire investigations.
During the 2008 Californian fires, he performed the role of divisional supervisor during a 40-day operational tour.
He was able to draw on his significant experience during Black Saturday in 2009, when fires claimed many homes and one person’s life in Bendigo.
“I had a discussion with the incident controller and told him I think I should go out in the field,” he said.
“It was an interesting thing to witness. At serious incidents people tend to freeze. They stand with mouths open and watch. But if someone takes the lead, people follow readily and are willing to help.
“For three or four hours I was getting around Bendigo asking people to do what they could.”
Mr Gilmore said his family had been a great support through the years.
“My wife and two daughters are my mainstay. They kept me sane and allowed me to perform my service,” he said.
“When I returned home from Black Saturday, the support they gave allowed me to go out the next day and do it again.”