Aviation hero receives prestigious award

CFA volunteer Leighton Wraith said he is thrilled to be awarded the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2021 Australia Day honours for his long and outstanding service to CFA and his local community.

Aviation hero receives prestigious award

Leighton Wraith – second from the left. Photo credit – Weekly Times

Leighton has protected and served the communities of South West Victoria for 40 years through volunteering with CFA.

While he has accomplished many roles during his time at Bochara and Dunkeld Fire Brigades, over recent years his greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the Hamilton CFA-EMV Air Base and its facilities.

As a licenced pilot himself, Leighton was passionate about aviation and the 2013 Grampians fires highlighted the need for better ground support and arrangements for deployment. Leighton was adamant there should be a permanently established airbase to service and support firebombing aircraft at Hamilton Aerodrome.

“It took me 7 years to complete – with several trips to Parliament and Local MPs offices,” Leighton said.

“It’s the largest CFA operated airbase in Victoria which is run by a great group of volunteers.”

Leighton has been vital to the recruitment, training and management of the members that operate the airbase.

Leighton recruited around 40 volunteers to perform various key roles and then managed them into six loading crews, which enables him to manage fatigue during major periods of operation by scheduling the rotation of the highly proficient teams.

Leighton said he often positioned the volunteers at the base full-time during high risk fire days to ensure they have the best possible aerial firefighting operations and the greatest chance at protecting Victorians.

Leighton is a well-respected leader whose hard work, dedication and ongoing management of the airbase means it is now recognised as the primary aerial fire support facility across western Victoria.

While Leighton has attended many and various incidents across his 40 years with CFA, he said last summer stands out the most.

“The 2019/20 summer was a long one. We were on duty ready to go every day,” he said.

“On some of the busiest days, the airbase crews reloaded 52 aircraft in one day.”

Over a six-week period during those devastating fires, the Hamilton Air Base carried out 330 reloads.

The effective deployment and efficient reloading of firebombers from Hamilton prevented the need to obtain resources from elsewhere in Victoria.

CFA District 5 Assistant Chief Fire Officer (ACFO) Richard Bourke said the contribution Leighton has made to aviation in advocacy of senior management, EMV and Government has been pivotal in where and how the airbase turned out.

“The facilities that are there are the jewel in CFA’s aviation crown and that is directly attributed to Leighton’s work.”

ACFO Bourke said the prestigious AFSM is such a deserving recognition for Leighton.

“We are all very proud of what he has achieved over the last 40 years. He is a credit to CFA and a credit to his community,” ACFO Bourke said.

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