A spontaneous walk past the Ferntree Gully Fire Station has led to a lifetime of new experiences for Byron Rutgers.
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Mr Rutgers says he felt like he needed to give back to the community that accepted him with open arms when he moved to Australia.
It’s why at 45 years old, he signed up as a CFA volunteer, and committed to helping in any way he could.
“I didn’t know anybody at the station but it wasn’t a daunting experience. It was simply new chapter for me.”
25 years later and Byron has embraced his role as a peer support officer.
His position means he has worked with many different firefighters from a wide range of brigades across the state, and says it’s important to celebrate all volunteers during National Volunteer Week, running from 18 May – 24 May.
“Personally I’m not in it for the recognition, but when we go on strike teams and pass towns where CFA has saved lives and property, it does give you a sense that what you’re doing is worth it.
“When firefighters turn up, you can see the change in peoples’ attitude, from great despair to knowing there are people that are there for them.”
Like Byron, Megan Klippel also signed up to give back to her community.
Another volunteer from CFA’s North East Region, Megan was 19 when she first volunteered with Cobram Fire Brigade.
“I’d finished Year 12 the year before, and was working at the supermarket,” she said.
“I had a lot of self-doubt and never thought I could succeed in such a way, but the brigade – management and all the members – took me in with open arms.
“They encouraged me to take on responsibilities within the brigade and today I’m secretary.
Megan says one of the greatest benefits of being a member of the CFA was the life-long friendships she has made.
“Not just here with Cobram Fire Brigade, but with surrounding brigade members I’ve been on strike teams with,” she said.
“What I’ve loved during my time is being able to help with our junior brigade members, and working on community events like our annual show or open days. I think what I love most is when kids get to climb in our vehicle. They always have a big smile on their faces.”
Megan draws on her family and work colleagues to support her volunteering.
“Actually, shortly after I joined, my brother joined also, so we support each other.
“I was a shy girl – a not-really-talking-to people person. Volunteering with the CFA has given me confidence to use my communication and people skills in life and in the workplace.
“I wish I had joined sooner when I found out you could join at 16. The skills are so valuable. I think working as a volunteer helps young people in the workplace.”