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Land swap could answer brigade problem

Cramped conditions: Hayley Ettershank, Rochester CFA’s Fourth Lieutenant, stands between the CFA tanker and the makeshift lockers where male and female members change into fire fighting attire.

A land swap between Rochester CFA and Campaspe shire could provide the “bursting at the seams’’ brigade with a new site, but no news on funding for the construction of a desperately needed million dollar-plus fire station is causing ongoing frustration within CFA ranks.

Rochester brigade Captain of the past seven years, Luke Warren, said the 48-strong membership of the brigade had outgrown is Mackay St building.

“This building has served its purpose. It has done a wonderful job to last this long (the current station was built in the 1960s),” he said.

The signs of distress at the CFA unit’s home are obvious, cracks in the brickwork and sinking bitumen at its entrance just a couple of the visual pointers to the need for an immediate relocation.

Campaspe Shire has been working closely with the CFA’s Region 20 headquarters, and the Rochester brigade, to assist in plotting a “way out’’.

Nationals Leader, and Member for Murray, Peter Walsh has also been a long-time supporter of the CFA and has been consistently pushing the case from the opposition side of parliament.

The shire is keen to take possession of the centrally located plot of land, which is home to the CFA building, then re-develop the site for its childcare centre (currently located directly across the road).

It will provide the CFA with a parcel of its land, two options have been identified at either end of the township, in order to build a new station.

Former Campaspe Shire Mayor, Leigh Wilson, was a key driver of the initial negotiations and identification of sites in the vicinity of the eastern industrial area and the golf club (to the west) have been identified as potential sites for the new CFA headquarters.

“We don’t have a preferred site. Most of our members are on the west side, so that would be good, but we are not even at the artist impression stage yet,” Captain Warren said.

The “land swap” arrangement remains dependent on the state government coming to the party with funding for a new station, expected to be attached to a price tag well in excess of $1 million.

“This re-location, and a rebuild of the station, has been on the agenda for five or six years,” Captain Warren said.

“We have just never had any funding for the station. The Shire of Campase and CFA Region 20 are both on board, but the hold up is the lack of finances for the building.”

The matter was put on the agenda again last week by Liberal Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell.

She made a direct request to Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes to fund the replacement of the CFA station — which she described as “inadequate”.

She made a pointed reference to the “luxurious surroundings’’ that Fire Rescue Victoria staff and volunteers enjoy — courtesy of $120.6 million towards just 85 stations (compared to the CFA’s $49.6 million for 1200 stations).

“While Rochester volunteers operate in a dilapidated station that is no longer fit for purpose, FRV members enjoy luxurious surroundings including fully equipped gyms, rec rooms, commercial kitchens and outdoor patio areas at new multi-million dollar FRV fire stations,” Ms Lovell said.

“The Minister needs to support the hard-working volunteers of the Rochester CFA by providing funding to build a new fire station that both they and the local community deserve.”

Captain Warren said housing affordability in Rochester had injected new personnel into the CFA.

“We get a lot of people who move here because they can afford Melbourne and Echuca is too expensive,” he said.

“The CFA has become an attractive volunteer proposition for people.

“There are a lot of options for people, they can do the traditional get on the truck and squirt the fire.

“But there are also admin and support roles. It is not about kicking down doors and saving babies.”

A CFA veteran of 21 years Captain Warren said the organisation had “come a long way” since he started, but was being forced to operate under antiquated conditions because of its building — particualry in relation to change facilities.

The brigade’s 15 or 16 female members do not have their own dedicated change area and are forced to change into firefighting attire alongside their male colleagues in a cramped space alongside the brigade’s tankers.

“Back in the 1980s this situation may have been acceptable, but it certainly isn’t now,” Captain Warren said.

“Back then it was just how things worked, but there was also not as many female members.”

Hayley Ettershank was recently elevated to the rank of Fourth Lieutenant, becoming Rochester CFA’s first female lieutenant after five years of membership.

Captain Warren said in order to operate safely, and for the privacy of members, a new CFA station was vital.

“We have outgrown the current site. We have trucks that are too big for the building,” he said.

“If we were to drive straight out we would clip the rearview mirrors on the brickwork of the building.

“We have leave the station on an angle, not perfect for a quick exit, particularly with people getting changed alongside the trucks at the same time.”

The Rochester site is well and truly on the radar of CFA commanders, its immediate Region 20 hierarchy providing regular photographic evidence of the building’s state of disrepair.

Captain Warren said a new building would complete a dream scenario for the station.

“We have two tankers, one pumper, a rehab unit, a forward control vehicle and a trailer pump,” he said.

“The tankers are both fairly new, the pumper and one tanker are both CFA owned, while the rest of the equipment is brigade owned.

“We took possession of a new tanker at the start of the year, worth almost half a million dollars.

“The equipment we have is second to none. It is new, it’s current, it is great stuff.

“But what houses it is not.”

Land exchange: Campaspes shire’s childcare facility is located directly across the road from the Rochester CFA site. There is interest by the local government authority to re-develop the centre where the fire station currently stands.