Rural Fire Service volunteer honoured by Governor-General

Published 17 December 2010

grahameGrahame Chaffey, who joined the Invergowrie Bushfire Brigade in 1992 and is now a Group Captain coordinating five local brigades, has been awarded a National Medal for “diligent service” by the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC.

Assistant Commissioner Keith Harrap of the NSW Rural Fire Service presented Mr Chaffey with the medal during a ceremony at the Armidale Fire Control Centre in October.

Mr Chaffey, who works as Manager of the Animal House within the University of New England’s School of Environmental and Rural Science, joined the Invergowrie Bushfire Brigade after moving with his family to a house at Invergowrie and getting to know some of the brigade members. “It’s a rural area with a high potential for a fairly severe fire at some stage,” he said.

Now as a Group Captain for the New England Zone of the Rural Fire Service (RFS), he coordinates a group of brigades in an area stretching from beyond Nowendoc in the south to Deepwater in the north, and west to Tingha. “It’s so that, when called out to a large fire, all the firefighters combat the fire with a coordinated approach,” he said.

“Grahame has provided meritorious, diligent service to his community as a firefighter, trainer and leader within the RFS,” said Inspector Tim Butcher, the Armidale-based Learning and Development Officer for the NSW Rural Fire Service. “He is currently a highly-regarded member of the Training Team as well as a valued member of the Senior Management Team.”

Although he thinks that volunteering in the RFS is “a great idea” and would recommend it to others, Mr Chaffey adds that it’s “not for everyone – especially those with young families”. “When you go away to a fire and they see it on television, they tend to think the worst,” he said.

He was at Healesville, Victoria, during the devastating fires there in February 2009. “We weren’t in the worst areas, where a lot of people died,” he said, “but many houses were burnt, and driving along a paddock you’d see little piles of ash that had been big round bales of hay.”

The Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, said he was delighted to have such high-calibre community service volunteers on the University’s staff, and congratulated Mr Chaffey on his recognition. “UNE values any staff member making a contribution to community services,” Professor Barber said. “I’m truly delighted for Grahame on his receipt of this well-earned award recognising his contribution to the RFS.”

“Generally, volunteers are able to train and practise their skills in their own time,” Inspector Butcher said. “However, as emergencies are by their nature unpredictable, they can occur at any time of the year and at any time of day or night. The role of employers in releasing volunteers to respond to emergencies is essential to the success of the RFS in providing fire protection to our community.” Mr Chaffey said that UNE was always more than willing to release staff members for volunteer fire and emergency service.

The National Medal, part of the Australian honours system, recognises long and diligent service by members of recognised organisations that help the community during times of crisis. Mr Chaffey was also presented with an RFS long service medal during the ceremony in October.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Grahame Chaffey displayed here, taken just after the presentation of the National Medal, expands to include (from left) Jannette Chapman (Zone Administration Officer for the RFS), Assistant Commissioner Keith Harrap, and Councillor Rob Richardson of Armidale Dumaresq Council.