“The first job I got down here was as the milk man in Augusta,” says Tony Shapkaris, now approaching his second year as Captain of the Molloy Island Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Perth-born, Tony first came to Molloy Island in Western Australia in 1999 to attend a fair with his family. After visiting, he, his wife and their two boys decided to move to the island. “I picked up various jobs, whatever was around, usually as a motor mechanic,” says Tony.
“We rented a house first to make sure things were going to be all right. Then we bought a block and started building our house.” Tony and his wife built the house themselves.
Left to right: Brian Combley, Tom Kneebone, Mike Winn, Tony Shapkaris (Captain), Graham Jack, Kerry Bell, Andrew Coustley and Chris Jones
Tony enjoys the freedom, seclusion and peacefulness of the island, as well as the social aspect. He decided to join the Volunteer Fire Brigade to get to know people. Today, Tony is in charge of 15 qualified volunteer firefighters on the Island who are charged with saving lives and property on the island. He reports to a chef bush-control fire officer, who oversees all of the local volunteer stations in the shire (county), as well as the community emergency services manager, who manages the fires.
“If you’re interested in joining the Brigade, there is an application, a three-month wait and a probation period, and in that time, we get to show you around the place, the vehicles, and kit ya up in some gear,” says Tony. “There are some basic courses (Bush Fire Awareness and Bush Fire Skills) you have to have. But in that three-month time, you can join the guys with some of the stuff we do to get used to things.” During that time, a potential volunteer learns everything about the Island’s two fire trucks, the equipment and safety procedures.
Most of the calls Tony and his team get are reports of bush fires. His phone connects to all of the captains in the shire, and if a fire is in his zone, he and his team respond. “If the fires is close and we can get there, we’ll say ya, we go,” says Tony.
A new system Tony is trying out for his team automatically routes a call to all of his volunteers. They reply on their cell phones with a thumbs up or down if they are able to join the team or not.
Fire-fighting has changed since Tony first got involved. It’s become more pro-active in mitigating potential bush-fire-prone areas. Firefighters get help from the shire’s Mitigation Officer, who works out the areas that, for safety reasons, need to be burned. They often work with other brigades who come and help with the control burns.
“That’s our main thing here, to protect the island and property,” says Tony. “We’ve had a few bush fires and a house fire that was a complete burnout in 2008 or 2009. The fire was just down the road from our house. My son ran down and said, ‘Oh, there’s a house on fire!’ There were nine occupants in the house but they all got out.”
When asked about his team, Tony says, “As individual as they all are, when on the job, we get into a team of professionals, each looking after each other and going above expectations. At the end, it's good to get together have a refreshment, talk and a laugh. We hope to keep building on the foundations and previous members’ efforts over the years. Molloy Island is a truly wonderful place.”