Bemm firefighter Russell Pardew will today receive the prestigious Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) as part of the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Russell will receive the medal after more than 47 years of service with CFA.
As a Captain of Bemm Brigade and Group Officer of the Orbost Group, Russell has dedicated much of his time developing working relationships with other key government agencies such as Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria and the East Gippsland Shire to keep the broader community safer.
He said he joined the CFA almost half a century ago to provide help out his community in its times of need.
“CFA is a community-based organisation and when you live in a small community it’s important to give back in whatever ways you can,” Russell said.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenges along the way, as well as the camaraderie between the brigades and the wider community. This relationship is so important in ensuring we are able to keep people safe during incidents.”
Russell is known for his expert local and operational knowledge, using this along with his strong connections to influence important fuel reduction burns and other collaborative public safety projects.
He chooses not to leave Gippsland to attend campaign fires, preferring to stay home because of his strong sense of duty and responsibility to the people in his local area.
Bemm was in the thick of some of the fires that ravaged East Gippsland this fire season and Russell said he and his brigade members worked diligently to keep their community as safe as they could.
“It was very full on, we are a very small and isolated community so ahead of this past fire season our brigade came together to run through a broader plan to ensure we were all on the same page in the case that fire struck the way it did,” Russell said.
“We could never do what we do on our own so it was important to continue having conversations with people within our community.
“On 31 December we sent a vehicle to Orbost and arrived to see a ring of fire around Orbost. Because Bemm was so isolated and Orbost was sufficiently resourced, we thought we’d be better off helping back at home and so when we returned to the station all our members were waiting there and looking East where there was a glow in the sky.
“Thanks to our local knowledge we were able to ascertain where the fire had impacted Swan Lake and report it to the Incident Control Centre located in Orbost. Over the coming days we were then heavily involved in town protection.
Russell said without local knowledge it can be extremely difficult to understand the needs of the community and the how the surrounding landscape will react to different types of incidents.
“You have to have the ability to think as everybody else in your brigade would as well and base your decision largely on how your community would like you to act.”
The Australian Fire Services Medal nomination describes Russell as an extremely dedicated and outstanding leader during his active service with CFA.
He has also been the driving force behind the annual Bemm River ‘Fish and Chip’ fundraising event which provides around 200 meals for attending tourists and locals.
This is just one of the ways Russell continually provides opportunities for the brigade to get together as he prioritises strong and valuable connection between local people.
“This award is an honour not only for me, but for everyone within my local community that lends a hand when their neighbour is in need,” Russel said.
“What it’s all about is people supporting other people and that’s the beauty of living in this small town.”