La Trobe Business School PhD research student Alex Batty was awarded the National Emergency Medal on October 8. Established in 2011 by Her Majesty the Queen, the Medal is awarded to organisations and individuals who sustained service in response to nationally significant emergencies. With the start of December now here, Bushfire season is oficially upon us, and the presence and work of the CFA in our community never more evident.
Alex Batty joined his local CFA when he was just 16 years of age, today, he works as a career fire-fighter and Diversity Consultant with the CFA and is based at Hallam Fire station, 40km South of Melbourne. Growing up in the small rural town of Riddles Creek at the foothills of the Macedon Ranges Alex had been an active member of his community, and saw volunteering as a way of giving back.
‘I would hear the fire siren going on and see other volunteers swiftly getting to the station and responding to help others out during emergencies’ said Alex,
‘At the time the Brigade had been trying to recruit members for day time response. As a high school student I had many months off during the summer period because of school holidays so I chose to become a member because I would be available during that time.’
During the devastating Black Saturday Bushfires Alex, then a lieutenant with the Riddles Creek Fire Brigade, was tasked to the King Lake Complex, and there assisted trapped residents in escaping the impact zones and leading them to the relative safety of medical facilities that had been established for the injured and missing.
’Throughout the night we continued to work our way through badly affected areas‘, reflects Alex.
‘[We were] putting out spot fires, looking for survivors and had the unfortunate task of identifying where there had been fatalities.’
But Alex’s contribution to rescue and repair efforts did not end when the King Lake fires were finally doused. Alongside a team of two other members of the CFA, Alex assisted local residents, many of whom were CFA volunteers themselves, with rehabilitation programs post-event.
‘Like you would respond a fire truck to a fire, we responded teams of chaplains, counsellors, psychologists and peer support members to provide member assistance on the ground in affected areas. This was the first time the organisation had executed a welfare response plan of this size to so many different areas throughout the State.’
Alex’s passion and commitment to the Country Fire Authority has been further developed and refined throughout his time at La Trobe.
’I was fortunate to get accepted at La Trobe to study a Bachelor of International Business after graduating from Gisborne Secondary College in 2005. After completing my undergraduate degree I continued to study at the University, undertaking an honours year where I conducted a study in to the gender imbalance of volunteers within the CFA’ Said Alex,
‘I love the atmosphere at La Trobe. I've spent many years at the campus now and really enjoy the vibe.’
Most recently Alex has been undertaking PhD research aimed at investigating how the CFA can better engage individuals within a community who come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, in an effort to sustain Volunteerism in the future.
’The CFA is a volunteer based emergency service with about 60,000 volunteers across the State of Victoria.’,
‘We must begin to attract, recruit and retain people from diverse backgrounds to ensure that brigades reflect the communities for which they serve‘, maintains Alex.
When asked what he felt he had gained from his time with the CFA, Alex’s response was firm.
‘Experience. There is no other organisation that provides its members with such a diverse range of experiences and opportunities’ he said,
‘As a career fire fighter today, I don't feel like I ever have to work another day in my life. I love my job, the people that I work with and the community which we protect, [and it] is an extremely satisfying feeling knowing that I get to do this for the rest of my working life.’
In a resonating message to the entire La Trobe Community Alex urges caution during the Summer months.
‘Bushfires are unpredictable. They can happen at any time, any day and in any conditions.. You cannot simply wait to see how big the fire is and whether or not it will impact your area. Being fully prepared means on high fire risk days you have taken action before a fire even begins. Prepare. Act. Survive.’