Meet Lez Baines, Chief Bushfire Control Officer

Published on Tuesday, 6 December 2022 at 10:43:30 AM

Meet Lez Baines, Denmark's Chief Bushfire Control Officer

Story and images by SERENA KIRBY

When Lez Baines lost his Quinns Rocks home in a devastating house fire 17 years ago he never anticipated that he’d later become a Chief Bushfire Control Officer.

After deciding not to rebuild on the site of his burnt out home Lez retired from his signwriting business and moved to the Shire of Denmark, where he was introduced to his local fire brigade by a neighbour.

“It was a gradual progression to becoming fire chief,” Lez says.

“I started doing a bit of training and ended up being the brigade's fire control officer and really enjoyed it. I then moved into the role of Deputy Chief for the Shire and two years ago I took on the role of Chief.”

Known amongst his firefighter friends as ‘Marshall’ (a reference to Marshall batteries because he’s ‘ever-ready’) Lez, has received a commendation from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for going above and beyond as a volunteer firefighter. In 2015 he also received Denmark’s Citizen of the Year award.

Leading up to the summer months, and over the peak fire season, 66-year-old Lez can put in more than 20 hours a week as an unpaid volunteer but admits it’s more like a full time job as he’s on call 24 hours a day.

“I think of my role as a job and if I’m going to do a job I want to do it well. When someone calls 000 to report a fire in an area surrounding our town the call is patched through to me. Then it’s all systems go. I’ll coordinate the response from my control office at home and if the fire gets to a Level Two emergency I hand over command to DFES. Sometimes all the phones are ringing at once - landline, mobile, radio - things get pretty hectic.”

Lez says the local firefighting crews are amazing to work with and it’s because of these volunteers, and the nature of his work, that he loves his role so much. He adds that
if he was 20 years younger he'd want to do this as a career.

Lez admits there are sometimes lowlights to his role and he’s recently had a toe amputated after a painful injury occurred on the fireground. But, as someone who knows how it feels to lose your house to fire, Lez says it’s the loss of other people’s homes that upsets him the most.

“I feel responsible when a home is lost. I feel I’ve let people down even if there was nothing we could’ve done to save it. It affects me deeply.”

So why does Lez continue to do what he does? He does it for his community, to keep people safe and for those moments of personal satisfaction that come from a job well done.

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