A plaque dedicated to the men and women who fought the 2009 Victorian Bushfires was unveiled during a ceremony last week.
A commemoration event for the 10-year anniversary of the fires was held at the District 12 headquarters in Seymour last Thursday.
Former CFA regional director Alan Davies hosted the service, which was attended by representatives from all the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.
Senior CFA staff were in attendance including chief executive officer Paul Smith, chief officer Steve Warrington and assistant chief officer Ross Sullivan.
Operation managers from four of the five CFA districts in the North East were also in attendance including the regional commander Paul King.
Chief officer Steve Warrington was the deputy chief officer at the time of the 2009 bushfires and he was invited to speak at the event.
Mr Warrington spoke about what he remembers of the fires and days that preceded them.
He remembers days of continuous hot weather when more than 300 people died, the extremely low humidity and storm force winds that grounded the bulk of the aircraft used for firefighting
He spoke about having to make the terrible decision to not send aircraft to areas that desperately needed them.
Mr Warrington said the 10-year anniversary of the fires was time to reflect on the 173 lives lost on the day but to also remember the many more who have died since.
He also spoke about how he saw people come together and that ‘‘badges were forgotten’’.
On that day in 2009 he said it didn’t matter where someone had come from, if they were CFA, MBF, SES, Parks Victoria, Police, SES.
What mattered was everyone working together to try to save as many lives as possible.
He had only praise for the crews who worked so hard to protect what they could.
He warned that no one can ‘‘rest on their laurels’’ and the sad reality is there will be another incident like the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.
But Mr Warrington pointed out that some good had come from the fires with the development of the national Emergency Alert system and the advances in technology that helped the CFA both fight fires and warn the public.
Mr Warrington also urged anyone who was struggling to seek help and told those in attendance that he himself had sought help in dealing with trauma caused by the fires.
‘‘There’s no shame in asking for help,’’ he said.
With the conclusion of Mr Warrington’s speech, a smoking ceremony was conducted by Uncle Steve Walsh, a Taungurung man.
Mr Walsh explained that smoking ceremonies are traditionally used to welcome people onto tribe land, to offer protection to those present and as a cleansing of the spirit.
He invited all in attendance to step into the smoke.
Six wreaths were then laid by a representative of each of the emergency services and the Australian Defence Force.
CFA chief executive officer Paul Smith laid a wreath that incorporated the names of the 173 people who died in the fires.
The other wreaths were laid by representatives from the CFA, Victorian Police, Ambulance Victoria, State Emergency Service and the Australian Defence Force.
Once the wreaths were in place, a minute’s silence was observed.
To end the ceremony, six rose bushes were planted to form a remembrance garden.
Five of the roses represent each fire district in the North East with the final one representing the communities who suffered in the fires.
Representatives from districts 12, 13, 22, 23 and 24 planted a rose bush each and the final one for the community was planted by former CFA chaplain Graeme Scorringe.
The roses were planted around three pillars of wood, representing the forests.
Also buried in the garden are thoughts and reflections of CFA volunteers and staff as a gesture of feeding new growth and new beginnings.
At the front is a plaque dedicated to those who fought the fires, thanking for their service.
Mr Warrington unveiled the plaque and said that while the community should move forward, no one should ever forget what happened.
‘‘Our history should serve as a reminder to our future. To ensure that as emergency service practitioners, while we can never guarantee that it won’t happen again, all our endeavours are towards ensuring the impacts are reduced, that our communities are safe. And that all our people come home in the future.’’
This article was first published in the Seymour Telegraph on February 13 2019.