Fight­ing fires for stronger com­mu­ni­ties

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - By MITCHELL GASTIN

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.

PHOTO: Mel Guy

◆ 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.

PHOTO: Mel Guy

◆ 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.

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