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    BRIGADES BOOST: Pictured at a cheque handover to Westmere Fire Brigades Group are, from left, Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan, Willaura-Lake Bolac Community Bank manager Jack Oswald, bank chairman Rowly Paterson and Westmere group officer Rod Laidlaw.

Data connection for Westmere Fire Brigades Group


Westmere Fire Brigades Group leaders will soon have improved access to real-time weather data to make vital decisions about fire, farming and other operations.

Group officer Rod Laidlaw said the group would use a $2633 donation from Willaura-Lake Bolac Community Bank to connect seven Davis
weather stations to an online WeatherLink ‘cloud’.

“We already have the weather stations but at the moment, I can read my own, but I can’t read anyone else’s,” he said.

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“The data loggers are due to be installed at the end of the week, so seven of our weather stations will be live and available for our operators to look at. 

“Most of our weather comes from the west so we will be able to jump online and get a live reading, rather than having to call people. 

“We can see all the data on the screen, which will be really useful. We are very grateful to the bank for the donation.”

New bank manager Jack Oswald and chairman Rowly Paterson presented the cheque to group leaders during a meet and greet with new Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernen at Willaura.

Mr Paterson said he and Mr Oswald were delighted to donate money towards such a great cause.

“The bank has a long history of supporting local endeavours and community organisations and I couldn’t think of anything better than supporting the CFA and the wonderful work it does,” he said.

Mr Laidlaw, who farms at Tatyoon and Yalla-
Y-Poora, said the weather data would be extremely useful during fires but also when making decisions about machinery operations during harvest. 

He said farmers in his region were working hard to strip their remaining crops, with many well into their wheat.

When he spoke to The Weekly Advertiser on Monday afternoon, the group executive had ordered farmers to cease mechanical operations for several hours, based on fire risk due to weather conditions.

“It’s frustrating – those of us making the decisions are all farmers and we want to be out there, getting the crops off,” he said. 

“It wasn’t too hot, but the wind was the worst factor.” 

Mr Laidlaw said crops in the region had been affected by heavy rain at the start of the month, with some properties receiving between 20 and 150 millimetres.

He said many farmers also suffered hail damage, downgrading or destroying sections of crops. 

Along with completing harvest, the region’s farmers have been crossing their fingers for a lack of fire activity, although Mr Laidlaw said they were well-equipped if a fire broke out. 

He said several of the group’s members brought their private units to the get-together with the new chief officer last week. 

“We have 19 brigades in the group and cover more than one-million acres, so we have a lot of private units,” he said.

“The new chief was really impressed with some of the set-ups.”


Mr Heffernan, formerly assistant commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, took over the CFA’s top job in November and has spent his first month or so in Victoria visiting brigades across the state.

Last week, he visited the CFA’s West Region, meeting with staff at district headquarters in Horsham, Ararat and Wendouree. 

He also visited a new station site at Dimboola and met with captains, group officers and other volunteers from brigades including Warrackna-
beal, Stawell, St Arnaud, Beaufort and Willaura.

Mr Laidlaw said about 40 CFA members from Ararat and Westmere group brigades attended the Willaura event.

“It was very casual but it gave us an opportunity to meet the new chief officer, answer questions and gain a bit of insight into what he plans to do in the job,” he said.

“It was a breath of fresh air. We’re all a bit tired of this reform talk. I’m a bit disappointed with the way it’s all gone so it’s nice to look to the future and what the new chief has planned.

“He was a volunteer himself and is big on volunteerism and not interfering in brigade matters. 

“At the moment, the CFA has a top-down approach, where the little brigades at the bottom all get told what to do, but he wants to introduce a bottom-up approach. If he is able to do what he wants to do, it will be really good.”

The entire January 13, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!