DECORATED CFA figure Don Kelly has hung up the boots.
After 44 years with the Country Fire Authority, Mr Kelly said it was the selflessness of volunteer firefighters that kept him in the job for so long.
Retiring last week as Grampians regional director, the 61-year-old oversaw the CFA jurisdiction from Bacchus Marsh to the South Australian border which consisted of 100 staff and 10,000 volunteers.
One of his proudest achievements was the establishment of more than 300 regional and rural fire stations in western Victoria.
Several factors contributed to his decision to retire.
“A health scare made me reassess where I was going in life. The time is right,” he said.
He slammed the CFA’s restructuring which will see a downsize from eight assistant chief officers to five.
“I don’t agree with the decision and the centralisation of the organisation,” he said.
“The move to centralise will mean less face-to-face contact with volunteers.”
Mr Kelly’s life took a turn for the better in 1970 when he was working as a systems analyst and computer programmer, while serving as a volunteer firefighter at Mt Macedon.
When Ash Wednesday struck, he made it his goal to contribute to the prevention of a similar occurrence and signed up.
“Twelve lives we lost, and it looked like a holocaust. It was the turning point for me to say ‘how can I help out, how can I not let this happen again’,” he said.
“At Linton we lost five firefighters’ lives, that had a big effect on me.”
Towards the end of his career, he worked closely with local Ballarat emergency services and played a focal role in proposing a joint-service hub and incident control centre in Lucas.
Mr Kelly’s involvement in Black Saturday was recognised on the final day of his career when he received the National Emergency Medal for his role held organising services at Lilydale.
To kickstart his retirement, Mr Kelly will set off on the Canning Stock route from the Kimberley to Kalgoorlie.
That comes after a pre-retirement trip to Europe earlier this year.
He will continue to work as a volunteer firefighter for Wendouree.