News

Meet Shepparton’s next firefighter, our next hero

By Ed McLeish

There’s never been a busier time to be a newly-recruited Shepparton firefighter.

Luke Kreltszheim, 26, who started working at the Shepparton station three weeks ago, has always wanted to be a firefighter.

He joined the junior brigade, and officially became a volunteer when he was 16.

“I also applied when I was 18 (in 2011), but I was a bit young and didn’t have much experience,” he said.

Now, there’s certainly demand for firefighters in Shepparton. Senior station officer Paul McKendrick said the Shepparton station alone had received 100 more calls so far this year, compared to last year.

Mr Kreltszheim said he was ready for what lay ahead.

During his interview with The News yesterday, he had two minor call-outs and had to leave the station.

But he said he was “really happy” to be with the CFA.

“With Shepparton growing and some of our brigades being pulled away, we’ve been really busy,” he said.

Since last week Shepparton CFA rotated five fire trucks into Corryong — day and night — to tackle bushfires between there and Tallangatta.

At least 115 000 ha there have been destroyed by fire.

Mr Kreltszheim said he hadn’t dealt with any headline-making bushfires, mainly scrub and smaller grass fires in the Shepparton district.

Since joining the team, Mr Kreltszheim, who lives in Wangaratta with his fiancée Karly Quick, 26, said he had been learning and training as much as he could every day.

“It’s been a bit of an adjustment getting on to a four-day-on, four-day-off schedule,” he said.

“In the days on, there are two day shifts at 10 hours each, then two night shifts at 14 hours each.

“Recently, we’ve been doing a bit of pumping and station-specific stuff — mastering the basics.

“Every level of firefighters learn through specific stages. It’s a lot of on-the-job training.”

Although Mr Kreltszheim hasn't had to deal with any headline-making bushfires, he has attended grass fires in Shepparton and rescued a girl with a broken ankle.

When Mr Kreltszheim was 18 and found out he didn’t make the CFA cut, he developed more life experience through studying, then working as a civil engineer.

He worked with VicRoads, looking over road surfacing programs, but said he had “always wanted to be a firey”.

“It’s a great job — I have some friends and family that are in here that have helped motivate me.”

Mr Kreltszheim’s main roles from the back seat of the truck include being on the end of a hose, communicating with others on the job, directing the driver, mapping hydrants close to sites and investigating on-site.

When it came to communities rallying to help bushfire victims during the course of the past month, Mr Kreltszheim said a lot of people came in to the station trying to donate.

But he encouraged people to donate online instead.

“Everyone’s appreciating what businesses and individuals are doing across the state; there are so many people volunteering and giving up a lot of time.”

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