AFTER fighting fires for more than 50 years, Frank Whelan can recall a fair share of tragic moments.
For the 52-year-old serviceman of the Lilydale CFA, the one that tops it all was the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.
"They were even worse than the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires ... it certainly wasn't pleasant."
But at the Lilydale CFA, which celebrates its 125-year anniversary this Sunday, there's recall of many little triumphs along the way.
"I've been involved in some particularly nasty incidents — like road accidents, factory and bush fires — and while they do stick in your mind they are overshadowed by the good you do," says Mr Whelan.
He's emphatic that being part of the Lilydale CFA is a privilege.
Mr Whelan describes the brigade as a "real club" where he has made lifelong friends.
"I guess the most gratifying thing is that you're assisting the community, who are really thankful for what you do.
"It's just a fantastic organisation to belong to — to make a commitment to the community and work with a great bunch of people."
Joining the Lilydale Urban Fire Brigade in 1961 as an 18 year old, Mr Whelan quickly rose up the ranks. In 1977, he was elected captain, a position he held until June 2007 — a record 30 years as senior officer of the brigade. Ten years ago, he was presented with a medal of the Order of Australia.
Mr Whelan, who owns printing company Commodore Press in Lilydale, still regularly suits up as a volunteer for the brigade. "They're going to have to drag me out with my boots on when my time is up," he says with a laugh.
To celebrate the big anniversary, the Lilydale CFA will have an open day, from 11am-3pm this Sunday.
There will be activities for children and the launch of a book on the brigade's history.