Frank Whelan honoured with pumper naming for over 60 years in CFA

Frank Whelan OAM was honoured for his service of over 60 years in the Lilydale CFA with the naming of one of the fire trucks. Pictures: DANIELLE REYNOLDS.

By Mikayla van Loon

As a little boy, Frank Whelan loved the idea of riding around on a big red truck and now 60 years later his name features on one for his service to the CFA.

Joining the Lilydale fire brigade in 1961, Mr Whelan followed in his father and uncle’s footsteps as a young lad.

“I like helping people and I’ve always been interested in helping in the community,” he said.

“They were just a terrific bunch of people who were in the fire brigade at that stage and they encouraged me and it went from there.”

It wouldn’t take long before Mr Whelan was able to help his community like he’d always wanted when not long after becoming a volunteer, fire raged from Healesville right through the Dandenong Ranges and Mount Evelyn in 1962.

“It was the first big fire I had been to. We took our truck up to Healesville and worked hard up there,” he said.

“I’m not quite sure how the heck I got onto the truck actually because I was only a fairly newbie, but we saved a couple of guest houses up there. So it was a very exciting but pretty dreadful time.”

From there, Mr Whelan moved up the ranks to apparatus officer, then first lieutenant and finally captain, a position he held for 30 years.

During this service it also saw Mr Whelan have an active role in the Ash Wednesday fires protecting from Cockatoo right through to the Yarra Valley and then again in the Black Saturday fires.

“I’ve been up to New South Wales quite a number of times and WA and all over the place.

“That’s what we do. We have strike teams and that’s what CFA is all about, we help everyone and they all help us, so it’s a big family.”

Giving so much time to volunteer, Mr Whelan said immense credit had to be given to his wife Anne, his children and family for allowing him to help his community in times of need.

“I’ve galloped off when the pager or the siren has gone off from my kids’ birthday parties and all sorts of things.

“It’s a huge commitment to yourself, but it’s probably an even bigger commitment from your family.”

Over time, Mr Whelan said seeing so much devastation does begin to take a mental toll but “you try not to think too hard about that sort of thing.”

Recognised for his dedication and service to the Lilydale CFA as captain from 1997 to 2007, Mr Whelan was honoured with a special ‘pumper naming’ at the Annual Dinner and Award night on Saturday 30 April, as well as receiving the 60 year life member award.

“I was very chuffed actually. I was very surprised but it was a huge honour. It was terrific. I was lost for words actually and that doesn’t happen to me very often.

“[The naming of a truck] is something that doesn’t happen very often and it’s just a huge thing, but really, they should have put Anne’s up there as well because without her I certainly wouldn’t have got to the 60 years.

“Anne and my family have been big contributors to being able to continue to do that.”

Although retired from being captain for many years, Mr Whelan said “Once a volunteer, always a volunteer” and so he has remained heavily involved in the brigade, as well as being president of the Victorian Volunteer Fire Brigades Association for District 13.

In over 60 years of service, Mr Whelan has seen the brigade change extensively but yet he said the people and ethos of the volunteers has always remained the same.

“Just the general comradeship and friendship of the brigade that’s the main thing. It’s pretty special. We have each other’s backs and it’s quite a bond you have with a lot of people.”

From a boy who admired red fire trucks to a man who now has one named after him, Mr Whelan is looking forward to the first time he can respond to a call out in his newly named Scania Pumper.