History beckons Rowville brigade veteran

LONG gone are the days of extinguishing a fire with a rake or throwing on the nearest pair of overalls to battle a blaze in the hills.

It's been 70 years since a fire brigade was established in Rowville and the brigade's "unofficial historian" says the changes he has witnessed have been phenomenal.

Ray D'Andrea joined the brigade in 1959 and only stepped down from from fighting duties 10 years ago. He now chronicles the brigade's history for the CFA and is its longest serving member.

The brigade formed in 1942 after calls from authorities following concerns about possible bombings by the Japanese.

Numbers were small at the start, but once Rowville became a residential and industrial hub, interest in the brigade increased. There are currently 55 members.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary, the brigade's first trailer water tank was restored to mint condition. It stored rakes, knapsacks and beaters as well as a 90-gallon water tank.

The brigade has fought many significant fires across the state — playing a particularly vital role during the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

Rowville was one of the first brigades at the scene because they were close to the edge of the Belgrave Heights fire. "We turned around to switch our hoses on and by the time we turned back around the fire was half a kilometre further down because the winds had carried it," Mr D'Andrea recalled.

But in the midst of all the darkness from those catastrophic bushfires, Mr D'Andrea said there appeared to be what he described as a "miracle".

"We were in Cockatoo doing the mop up when all around the burnt down houses there was one white weatherboard house that hadn't been touched."

Mr D'Andrea said one of the most striking changes he had seen was the use of helicopters in fighting fires.

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