Fighting fires for stronger communities
SOME people look for more ways than one to help out their local community and Monique Hillenaar of Wangaratta is no exception.
The 29-year-old is currently working as part of the recreation team for the Rural City of Wangaratta and fills her spare time as a Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteer with the Wangaratta Urban Fire Brigade.
Monique has been working with the brigade for over two years now and has found the experience to be rewarding beyond measure.
“It’s that self-fulfilment and knowing what I’m capable of achieving that makes it so rewarding,” Monique said.
“I’ve learnt so much along the way through experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I wasn’t a volunteer.
“It also ties in really nicely with my council involvement in working for the community.”
Monique has been involved with the CFA’s operational activities, which includes providing assistance at a live fire site.
“I get paged when a fire call comes in and then we basically decide whether we’re available to respond or not,” she said.
“It involves getting in the truck and responding to a variety of things ranging from a smell of gas to a grass and shrub fire.
“We also have training once a week on Monday nights, sometimes it is theory-based or practical like when we take on real fire simulation scenarios at the training facility.”
It was almost by chance that Monique found herself working as a volunteer firefighter for more than a year while she was living in Canada after a friend referred her husband, Kasey, to join in while they were overseas.
Monique said her husband was initially “hesitant” to get involved, so she joined him in support during the sign-up process and got swept up in it.
“I went along just tagging behind him and it turned out I ended up getting involved which was not something I anticipated doing,” she said.
“It’s been great that we’ve been on this journey together so when we approached the urban brigade we came with a bit of experience already which assisted us in slotting in.
“What kept me doing it after I came back from Canada was having that hands-on practical experience… I like being fit and this sort of encourages me to maintain my fitness and have that hands-on physical activity.”
Monique has previously joined her husband in a gruelling stair climb as a volunteer firefighter to raise funds for cancer programs alongside in Canada and the Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb last Saturday to raise awareness for mental health, suicide and PTSD.
“We did the stair climb back in Canada in support of the Well Spring Calgary, which provides programs and resources to people affected by cancer,” she said.
“It was super rewarding and a great experience for us and we got a real sense of achievement so when we saw Melbourne was doing one, it really made sense for us.”
Being part of the CFA team to help protect the community has given Monique the opportunity to overcome wild challenges and take on new experiences, which would be beneficial for anyone interested in volunteering.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise the impact it can have, not only on the community, but themselves,” Monique said.
“It’s easy for people to say they don’t have the time but you can contribute as little or as much as you like, even if it’s just a couple of hours here and there.
“It’s quite a rewarding thing to give back to the community and meet other people and be part of this social network of volunteers… you do really get to know the community and who is in it through volunteering.”
The Wangaratta Urban Fire Brigade has invited anyone interested in joining the like-minded team of CFA volunteers to attend a free information session at the Wangaratta Fire Station at 7pm this Thursday, September 12.
For more information visit the Wangaratta Fire Brigade Facebook page.
◆ COMMUNITY EFFORT: Wangaratta CFA volunteer Monique Hillenaar said her experience serving the community as a firefighter has been self-fulfilling and a gift of experiences.
◆ CLIMBING AWARENESS: Monique Hillenaar (middle) joined Ben Cryer (left), Luke Chilcott (right) and two other local volunteer firefighters in this year’s Melbourne Firefighter Stair Climb to raise funds and awareness for mental health, suicide and PTSD.