Fire captain recalls Black Saturday

Narre Warren North homes were destroyed by the fire on Black Saturday.

By Jessica Anstice

February 7, 2009 started off as a normal day for then Narre Warren North Fire Brigade captain Shaun Trotter.

“The day was forecast to be a very nasty fire day,” he said.

Mr Trotter was with his family at the Cranbourne basketball stadium when he got the call for the first fire.

He went straight to the fire station and became incident controller.

Narre Warren North CFA’s Tanker One and FCV (forward Command Vehicle) were called to the fires further down the Princes Highway, leaving the station with just Tanker Two and Mr Trotter’s car.

“By mid-afternoon, a land owner cut down a branch from a tree which was smouldering high up from the earlier fire and once it hit the ground off the fire went again,” Mr Trotter said.

“We were called and once we arrived the fire was uncontrollable.

“It ran up the creek behind houses on Crawley Road, spreading into front and back yards on both sides of the creek.”

Mr Trotter rang his wife as she was the Municipal Emergency Response Co-ordinator and told her of what was happening and asked for more support from other brigades in the area.

Air Support arrived and helped the Narre Warren North Fire Brigade members immensely.

“The crews that fought the fire that day and also for the weeks after were from around the state of Victoria, thank God to them all,” Mr Trotter said.

“I passed the job onto a staff operations officer from the CFA as he was trained for the large scale job it was turning out to be.”

Mr Trotter was made the field operations officer for the fire.

“We ended up with over 200 fire fighters, 39 vehicles, Elvis the helicopter, plus locals and Marco’s IGA getting food and drinks to us all,” he said.

Narre Warren North Fire Brigade saved around 120 houses that day, but lost two houses, a caravan and fences etc.

“The sadness came from a lady who watched her house burn with all the memories in it and there was nothing I or my team could do,” he said.

“I knew of the fires happening in Victoria at the time of the Narre North/Harkaway fire but we were a bit busy with what we had.

“I did speak to my then first lieutenant who was on our tanker in Labertouche fighting fires and knew of their fight.”

The night before Black Saturday, all Narre Warren North Fire Brigade members attended the station to listen to the chief brief them.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined of what would happen the following day,” he said.

“But I know in my heart we all tried our best, everyone in the CFA, from top to bottom.”

The day following the fire, February 8, 2009, Mr Trotter’s wife ensured he had a full day off from CFA as he was “mentally and physically gone”.

“Others on that day probably did what I did, I sat down and cried,” he said.

“I have to be honest and say I struggled with the emotional feelings of what I could have done better, but after time I actually found some peace by talking to my wife, kids, friends and also counsellors.

“I also chatted to my dad as he helped me after I fought Ash Wednesday fires and the aftermath as a 14 year old. They would call it PTSD.”

Mr Trotter took a couple of months out of CFA to have a break for personal reasons.

“It still does hit me sometimes but a cuddle from the wife and kids helps,” he said.

The following week after the fire, Mr Trotter organised a session for all his fire fighters.

“We laughed, cried, listened to what others did and the struggles they had,” he said.

“I also organised a session for the locals to turn up and debriefed them about the day.”

Mr Trotter is still a member of the Narre Warren North Fire Brigade and has been for 21 years. Further, he has been in the CFA for 27 years.

“I hope it never happens again, every year I pray for the 173 lost on that day but I have to include the ones who we lost on Ash Wednesday,” Mr Trotter said.

“It will live with me for the rest of my life.

“I give thanks to my wife who helps me through this episode of my life.”

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