As a volunteer fire fighter with almost 20 years’ experience, Mark has spent the past month and a half on the front lines battling blazes in some of the worst affected regions of the country.
On New Year’s Eve, Mark and his crew from Melbourne’s west were credited with saving an entire town from the brink of catastrophe. For Mark it was a high point in an extremely challenging and dangerous season.
This special edition of Prospa Groundbreakers shines a light on a true champion of the industry, Mark Unwin of Extra Financial.
MFAA: Mark, first of all, thank you for your service. When did you decide that you wanted to fight fires?
Mark Unwin (MU): As a little kid I loved to chase fire trucks around. When I was five or six years old, I would go down on a Sunday and help the fire fighters wash their trucks. I just always wanted to be a fire fighter. So, when I was able to join the CFA (Country Fire Authority) as a junior at 12 years old, I did. Then, I progressed through minimum skills at 16 and started fighting fires, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s coming up to 20 years’ service for me now.
MFAA: Can you tell us what you’ve been up to this summer as part of your duties?
MU: I’ve had five deployments in a month and a half and I go wherever they need me. I’ve been in East Gippsland, around Buchan, Nowa Nowa, Lakes Entrance, Mallacoota, Coffs Harbour, and all over. I’m on call all the time, right now I’m doing an asset finance application for a client, but I’m not long back from a house fire.
MFAA: What exactly do you do when you’re out fighting a fire?
MU: It depends on where you’re sitting in the truck. Depending on your skill level, you’re able to rotate around through different divisions. The driver typically operates the pump and is responsible for the safety and security of the vehicle at all times, which includes yourself and the officer in charge who’s in the front left seat. Then you have two fire fighters in the back seats or on the back deck fighting fires while you’re driving, so you cycle through and try and swap it around.
MFAA: This fire season has been horrific. What has it been like on the front line?
MU: It has been challenging. The fire event has impacted such a large area, with multiple fires coming together to form major fires. Black Saturday was terrible, but this fire event has been so big that it has presented a variety of challenges, like large scale evacuations. But it’s all part of the duty and it’s been great to come together as a team and get the job done.
MFAA: I understand your crew was responsible for saving a town in Eastern Victoria. Can you tell us about that?
MU: Just before New Year’s Eve our crew of 20 in five trucks from the western suburbs of Melbourne was credited with saving the town of Orbost. We saved critical fuel points, the Department of Sustainability and Environment depot and their water treatment plant, we didn’t lose any houses, no loss of life, we didn’t lose any stock, we managed to suppress all the fire and save the entire town. That was the high point this season.
MFAA: As a new-to-industry broker, has it been difficult managing your business while being away fighting fires?
MU: I’ve been a broker for just over a year now but having been away fighting fires for the past month and a half my business has taken quite a hit. I’m essentially starting over again now, but I can be called away at any time. Just this minute I received a call to say I’m potentially going up to the ACT, so I never know what the future holds for me. As you can appreciate there are costs that keep piling up. Connective has been kind enough to waive three months of fees to help me out, but I still have other fees, and rent on offices. It’s a bit of a challenge, but money isn’t everything.
MFAA: In terms of the brokers that aren’t on the front line, is there anything that they can do to help?
MU: The major challenge for me at the moment is that having a month and a half off work with no income presents certain challenges. My pipeline has basically been destroyed. Since I got back last Saturday I’ve been working to rebuild, calling connections and trying to get things happening, but if brokers are finding that they are swamped with deals, then referring them through to other brokers who are feeling the impact as a result of their service would be a tremendous help.
MFAA: What about brokers who want to help others that aren’t in the industry. What can they do?
MU: There’s a couple of banks now that have said they will wave mortgage repayments for a period of time for customers in the bush fire affected areas, so the best thing to do is to speak to their financial hardship teams. I think they’ve all got something in play there, that they can provide some sort of assistance.
MFAA: Thank you Mark and thanks again for your service.