John Stewart first became involved in the CFA when he was the principal of Westmere Primary School in 1975. It was the principal's job to keep the school's water tanks full. As a member of the CFA, he was able to use the CFA truck to do the job.
Now he lives in Kinglake and is still involved with the CFA, as well as Landcare and Neighbourhood Watch.
No longer using the fire trucks to fill up school water tanks, John is now the secretary of the local CFA. He still has some focus on the educational side of things, helping to run programs in schools such as Fire Safe Kids.
He is also one of the leaders of the Kinglake Junior Fire Brigade. 'It's a great program,' he says. 'The kids roll out hoses, start pumps – they do most of the things that senior firefighters do and they're having fun and learning about community service at the same time.'
Landcare is another organisation he volunteers for, again as secretary of the Committee of Management, in addition to a number of other volunteer tasks. 'The natural environment is a major interest of mine', he says. 'Landcare is involved in educating local communities about the need to conserve and care for the unique Kinglake environment through weed eradication, replanting, fencing and soil erosion programs, including working bees and six-week conservation courses.'
While his own children were growing up he was active in another of his areas of interest – junior sport, where he has been involved as a volunteer in basketball, football, tennis and little athletics. 'Our junior basketballers would compete with local teams like Whittlesea, just 'down the hill', as well as play in tournaments as far afield as Albury'.
One of the things John loves most about volunteering is working in a team that helps and encourages each other. 'I love that thing of everybody pulling in together to make something happen.'
With a busy volunteer schedule like John's it's no surprise that sometimes he wishes he had more time to do some of those impulsive, unplanned things that just aren't possible now. 'It takes up a lot of time,' he says. 'You can find yourself giving up other things; you can lose your flexibility'.
One of the biggest challenges, he says, is finding ways to encourage more people into volunteering. 'We usually have about half the people we need,' he admits.
This was particularly noticeable in and around Kinglake after the fires in 2009. 'Lots more groups started up after the fires,' he says, 'because there was also much more to do and people were spread even more thinly.'
He wouldn't change a thing though, and his advice to anybody considering volunteering is to go into something you really enjoy. 'If you have an interest in what you're doing, then you'll also get something out of it, as well as giving. Make sure it suits you, so it's sustainable.'