A family of firefighters

Tristan WheelerManjimup-Bridgetown Times
Stephanie, 14, Gavin, Kate, Jennifer, 17 and Elizabeth Sperrer have made firefighting a family activity.
Camera IconStephanie, 14, Gavin, Kate, Jennifer, 17 and Elizabeth Sperrer have made firefighting a family activity. Credit: Manjimup-Bridgetown Times

Manjimup’s Sperrer family have made firefighting a family affair, with five of its members volunteering for Bridgetown’s Kangaroo Gully Bush Fire Brigade.

Gavin Sperrer joined the brigade five years ago, after the family purchased a property in Kangaroo Gully, near Bridgetown.

Gavin is a fly-in, fly-out worker and said he joined the brigade so he knew the family was covered while he was away.

His eldest daughter Elizabeth, 19, was the next member of the family to be inducted, joining the brigade as a 15-year-old.

“I was just taken down to station one day with mum and we signed up and I just haven’t left,” she said.

The next daughter, Jennifer, 17, did not need to be taken to the station like her elder sister, joining the brigade’s ranks as soon as she could at age 14.

Jennifer started shadowing her dad from age 12, much to the amusement of Mike Fletcher, the brigade captain.

“Mr Fletcher likes to mention how I brought along a little notebook and pen and I’d just sit in the back and write notes,” she said.

“I just thought it was really interesting and I loved how grown up it made me feel at 12 having a little notebook with all these acronyms in there.”

Jennifer’s note taking in turn inspired her younger sister Stephanie, 14, to join as a cadet recently.

“She hung around and used to sneak into training”, Gavin said.

Mum Kate was the last family member to join, having been convinced at the brigade AGM to become an auxiliary officer.

“I’m the only one that was dragged down,” she said.

Since joining, Gavin, Elizabeth and Jennifer have been deployed to fires throughout the State, including fires at Westonia and Forrestonia, located in the State’s Wheatbelt region.

Kate said hardest part of having family fighting fires was waiting overnight for them to come home safely.

“The first night that Elizabeth went out, I was anxious, but it’s always going to be that way when your kids are in an unknown situation,” she said.

“With the last season they were deployed a fair bit to other regions, so that was always the unknown, them being deployed so far away.”

It has not always been easy for Jennifer and Elizabeth and both have experienced unique challenges.

Elizabeth said her biggest obstacle was her size relative to the other brigade members.

Fortunately for Elizabeth the brigade has found a way to counteract her height disadvantage.

“That’s why we have a special step,” Gavin said.

“It’s actually a step they’ve put on the truck, because there are a few short ones.”

Jennifer’s biggest challenge and worst moment as a brigade member came during her first experience with fire.

“I nearly passed out, it wasn’t even a fire, it was a burn-off at training, and luckily dad was there so I kind of stuck by him,” she said.

“It was terrifying, I nearly passed out.”

Elizabeth’s worst moment had less to do with fire and more to do with wildlife.

“Mine was a bull ant, I had a bull ant go down my tunic,” she said.

Gavin was able to see the funny side of the incident, thanks to brigade captain Mike’s embarrassment.

“It was funny because we had Mike with us, and Elizabeth was being bitten, so she just started stripping in the middle of the forest,” he said.

“Mike had gone all red and was looking the other way.”

Jennifer said fighting fires with her family had made her more comfortable.

“I know 100 per cent they have my back and know what I can and can’t do.”

Elizabeth credited her dad with building her skills and making her more comfortable fighting fires without him being present.

“At first he pushed us into a lot of things, he pushed us to have a go at talking on the radio, to have a go on the hose,” she said.

“I go to fires without him and I’m more able at doing that, because he pushed me.”

To find out more about becoming a volunteer firefighter visit dfes.vol.org.au.

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