Sue Mountain never thought she'd be a firefighter. For one she has bad allergy asthma and for another she's a woman.
Then her husband put his hand up to become a volunteer firefighter at an information night they attended. To her surprise, by the end of the night, she'd put her hand up too.
'I went home and couldn't believe what I'd done,' she says.
But she went ahead with all of the training – some of it, like learning about the operation of pumps, she found challenging – but she kept going.
The first big fire she went to she was 'absolutely petrified'.
'A month after we finished the training, a call came through at 3am,' remembers Sue.
'The South Morang pub was on fire. My husband and I weren't trained in structure fires at that stage so we went as observers. Then the Controller pointed at me and got me to grab a hose, then he pointed to the roof and told me he wanted me up there. So I went up the ladder onto the roof with one of my fellow brigade members and did the job. It was a scary experience but it proved to me that I could do whatever I put my mind to. Plus my training came to the fore and although I was scared, I was able to do what was required.'
Now, as First Lieutenant of Yarrambat Fire Brigade, Sue has attended all manner of incidents – wildfires in summer, house and shed fires, car fires, motor vehicle crashes, hazardous material incidents, storms and flooding.
She's attended emergencies where children and babies have been accidently locked in cars. One time there was an overturned horse float to deal with and another time a dog with its head stuck in a wrought iron fence.
She's also responsible for running the brigade's recruitment campaigns, as well as its junior program where young people aged 11 to 15 years get involved in brigade activities. She also visits schools and kinders spreading the fire safety message and promoting the work of the brigade.
All of this while working part time in her husband's business.
Sue says the things you go through as a volunteer make you a better person. 'It makes you aware that life is pretty important, more important than material things.'
During the February 2009 bushfires, she and other brigade members spent every day for four weeks protecting assets around Strathewen, as well as patrolling the area for smouldering logs, trees and hot spots.
She says it was exhausting but the thing that keeps her going is her fellow brigade members.
'It's a real family. The moment we walked in we felt comfortable.'
She says there are no big thank you's for the work she and her brigade mates do, but sometimes the thanks comes in strange ways.
In the aftermath of Black Saturday, Sue was with her husband at Mernda filling up the truck after being at a job at Arthurs Creek.
'A perfect stranger came up to me and said 'Do you mind if I give you a hug?' That's all he said then he gave me a big bear hug. People do appreciate what you do,' she says.
Her advice to people thinking about volunteering is simple: Give it a go. 'Go into that building, put your hand up – it's certainly very satisfying.'
CFA is a volunteer and community based fire and emergency services organisation that helps protect 3.3 million Victorians, and more than one million homes and properties across the state. To find out more or to register your interest go to www.cfa.vic.gov.au