From squad cars to firetrucks, CFS Chaffey group officer ADRIAN WRIGHT has seen his fair share of bravery and trauma. Murray Pioneer journalist SARA GILLIGAN sat down with the local firefighter to reflect on his decades of community service.
FOR 32 years, Paruna man Adrian Wright protected and served communities across the state on the SA Police force and – 10 years into his retirement – not much has changed.
The 66-year-old retired from the Loxton Police Station in 2008, after a long and eventful career.
While most retirees might buy a caravan or remodel their homes, Mr Wright instead signed up to the Brown’s Well CFS brigade.
Over the past 10 years the local firefighter has moved up the ranks and officially took over the reins of Chaffey group officer from Paringa’s Greg Forbes on September 1.
“I’m loving it. It’s got its challenges and I like a challenge,” Mr Wright said.
“Just before I retired, I joined the local CFS because I thought it was worthwhile and I wanted to continue helping out the community.
“Brown’s Well was short on numbers at that particular time and I quickly became first lieutenant, and had a meteoric rise to captain.
“I was Brown’s Well’s captain for a couple of years before I was asked to be a deputy group officer – which I did for about four years – before I threw my hat in the ring for group officer, and here we are today.”
A group officer is the most senior rank held by a volunteer in the CFS and is responsible for the operational and administrative aspects of local brigades.
“There’s a lot of work to do and it is time consuming,” Mr Wright said.
“I dedicate about 40 volunteer hours a week to the role.
“But I am fortunate that – being retired – I have the time to be on call and to do the work that needs to be done.”
Country lifestyle is in Mr Wright’s blood – contributing to him and wife Florence deciding to call the Riverland their final home.
Born in Mount Barker, Mr Wright grew up in the Adelaide Hills and his father had a dairy farm
He and Florence – who have been married for 45 years and have two children, Cassandra and Jamie – now live on a 200-acre dryland farm in Paruna.
Florence is also involved with the CFS and has recently taken on a support role in the Chaffey Operational Support Brigade
As a police officer, Mr Wright was initially based at the Thebarton Police Barracks in the accident investigation and prevention section.
“Because of my background of being a qualified motor mechanic, I used to examine vehicles involved in fatal accidents and flew all over the state,” he said.
“From there I transferred to the Birkenhead patrol base at Port Adelaide and then had my own station at Orroroo for over five years, before we came to the Riverland on July 13, 1990.
“We made two trips down to check out Loxton as a town and we loved it.
“The people made us feel very welcome and we were impressed by the cleanliness of the town and the great sense of community.”
Following his retirement from the Loxton station, Mr Wright has attended a number of major fires over the past 10 years through his involvement with the CFS.
“When I was a deputy group officer, I led a strike team of five units at the 2015 Pinery bushfire,” he said.
“That was a huge fire. We didn’t go down at the height of it, but to allow others to take a break and basically mop up and put out any hot spots.
“We saw incredible despair. What was surprising is that we came across people who hadn’t seen any firefighters for the entire time, because they were stretched so thin.”
Locally, Mr Wright said the biggest fire he had fought was near Peebinga about four or five years ago.
“We found ourselves in quite a dangerous situation near Peebinga,” he said.
“Our unit was parked on the main road and there was a wall of flame towering 30 metres high over us.
“We were debating whether to go into a paddock to see if we could fight the fire, but it looked so ferocious, we didn’t know whether we would be able to do anything to prevent its spread.”
In the end, Mr Wright said the crew made the decision to drive in.
“We just kept looking out for escape routes in case the fire went south on us,” he said.
“We were able to battle it and ended up controlling it alongside other units, but it was frightening.”
Mr Wright said his police background helped him through traumatic events.
“I have seen my fair share of trauma as a policeman and firefighter,” he said.
“In situations like Peebinga, you have to keep a cool head and just make sure you don’t put yourself in harm’s way without an escape route.
“The moment you go to a fire you are in harm’s way, but you don’t take unnecessary risks.
“You do the job to the safest level you possibly can.”
While firefighters sometimes face challenging situations, Mr Wright said being a CFS volunteer was “incredibly rewarding”.
“I can honestly say that you underestimate the level of appreciation the community has for the work you do, but sometimes it becomes very evident,” he said.
“A standout moment for me was during the Loxton Mardi Gras parade shortly after the Sampson Flat and Pinery bushfires.
“When people saw us in the trucks, we were applauded the entire length, and that really brings it home how much the community appreciates what we do.”
Mr Wright encouraged other Riverlanders to join.
“You can give back so much to the community; it’s very fulfilling and you can come away knowing you have done a really good job in halting further damage by fires or preventing injury and generally assisting people in times of need,” he said.
“There’s also great camaraderie amongst members who have your back and provide an important bonding experience for people.
“I know many would only look at the CFS as a firefighting role, but we also do road crash rescue, and have behind-the-scenes work as well.”
To volunteer with a local CFS brigade, call Adrian Wright on 0402 121 847.