From the frontline to incident control

January 21, 2017

Bruce Sonogan had two very different yet integral roles to play during two of Victoria’s biggest bushfires — Ash Wednesday in 1983 and the Black Saturday fires in 2009.

At 59 years young, Mr Sonogan is in his fifth season as a Forest Fire Management Victoria project firefighter at Benalla.

‘‘I have been involved in fighting fires since joining the Narre Warren North Fire Brigade at the age of 16 as a volunteer, and with several state government departments since then,’’ Mr Sonogan said.

‘‘I’ve seen most of the major fires.

‘‘I think this season may be my last, however, I’ve said that before.

‘‘I was a frontline firefighter at Ash Wednesday and I’ve never seen anything like it.

‘‘We left our station and headed for Belgrave South; we could see flames twice the size of trees and there were vacant blocks among houses — unlike today — with spot fires everywhere.

‘‘You’d put one out and then turn around and there was another.

‘‘There were three or four burning houses per fire truck rather than the other way round. It was an impossible situation.’’

The grandfather of two was presented with a National Emergency Medal from Chief Fire Officer Stephanie Rotarangi in Benalla last November for his role during the Black Saturday fires.

The medal was struck in 2011 by Her Majesty The Queen to honour and recognise the contribution those within our communities make to the protection of life and property during nationally significant emergencies.

Since its inception, there are just three events that have been identified by the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat as ‘‘nationally-significant emergencies’’ — the Queensland Floods in 2010-11, Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.

During the Black Saturday fires, Mr Sonogan formed part of the Incident Management Team at the Alexandra Incident Control Centre.

He worked as a level three resources officer and was part of the team responsible for sourcing on-the-ground crews and equipment, and managing firefighter fatigue.

‘‘I have been on both sides of firefighting and I have an appreciation of how hard everyone works, both on the line and in the Incident Control Centres making decisions,’’ he said.

Mr Sonogan studied Agricultural Science at Dookie College and held several soil conservation, farm forestry and cropping roles before becoming a project firefighter.

When he isn’t working, Mr Sonogan looks after his 40-acre hobby farm near Benalla and travels with his wife Carol around Australia.

— Amy Warnock, DELWP

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