Chris at the emergency services games
Emergency Services AFL Match

Chris Hardman has been the Chief Fire Officer at Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) since 2018. It's a position he holds dear; one that came as a surprise; and one for which he is extraordinarily grateful.

"My whole career, it has been a great privilege to work with so many extraordinary people.

I've been lucky enough to have a lot of people take the time to share their wisdom, knowledge and experience with me. This role has been no exception."
Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer, Forest Fire Management Victoria

Working as the chief at one of Victoria's lead land and fire agencies is far removed from anything a young Chris Hardman might have imagined back in 1984 when he emigrated from the UK. "I was a seafarer in the Merchant Navy."

"I arrived here and worked in the private sector for a few years while trying to find a direction for myself."

His entry into land and fire management was almost by happenstance. Standing in the Mountain Ash forest at Healesville, Chris saw a ranger and knew right there what he wanted to do.

"It just hit me, really. I saw him in his 4WD and walked over to him and asked what he did and how I could do it too."

He began on a crew of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works.

"I came in at the lowest possible level, but I loved it. It felt like my calling, I was in the right place.

Everything I did every day, working in the bush, in the forest; working with great people; caring for the environment. It felt right, that it was meant to be.

I still feel that every day, the privilege of being here and doing this work and working with the people I get to work with."

He deviated in 2000, working on ports and waterways, but returned to land and fire management and moved jobs routinely every 5 years until he got a tap on the shoulder about the CFO role in 2018.

"It was Kelly Crosthwaite (then regional director at Port Phillip) who called me and told me about the job. I didn't believe I had a chance, so I didn't look at the PD, but she called again and told me just to look."

Chris says it spoke to him immediately.

"It really integrated land and fire management and was an amazing opportunity to look after community and the environment across 8 million hectares."

He was shocked when he was appointed.

"I leaned heavily on a lot of incredibly smart people who helped guide and shape how I would carry myself as CFO.I feel a deep sense of gratitude to everyone.

Directly and indirectly, I work every day with thousands of people who jump out of bed each morning to go out and protect Victorians and the Victorian environment.

There is no bigger privilege."

The changing fires

Those feelings have been exacerbated during some of the worst natural events in Australia's history, namely Black Saturday in 2009 and the Black Summer fires in 2019-20.

"This generation has done more and faced more in the bushfire management space than any generation at any time in Victoria's history."

The biggest change he has witnessed in 40 years is the impact of climate change.

"I was an incident controller right up until I was chief," he says.

"In the last 20 years we've had three fires of one million hectares or more, plus 2019-20. Before that? The previous 150 years? We had two. Climate change has changed the face of bushfire fighting in Victoria. Not only are they more regular, but they are more intense. Areas that haven't traditionally burnt are now burning, like our wet forests and rainforest."

He says there is a holistic approach to reducing risk, through planned burns, strategic fuel breaks, fire response and suppression, but it only comes together if everyone plays their role.

"Everybody has a role.

We cannot succeed without the partnership of community, industry, council and Traditional Owners."

The changing face

Another change is one that Chris himself has tried to institute. The citation for AFSM credits his 'unapologetic' work to promote a more inclusive and diverse workplace, which has seen year-on-year increases in the number of female field staff since he became Chief Fire Officer.

As a leader, he says the thing that motivates him is how to create a better team.

"In my experience, the best teams are those that reflect the communities they serve.

I want to create the best possible place to work and to have the best possible team. To do that, I want teams that represent the people we are working for.

It doesn't matter so much if it is gender or background or thought, there is value in diversity, and it is something I will always strive for."

Chris at Pride Festival with staff in front of a fire truck

The award

The Australian Fire Service Medal was instituted in 1988 to recognise those who have rendered distinguished service as a member of an Australian fire service. It is awarded to both paid and volunteer fire service members.

For Chris, the award is not simply his. It is for the thousands of Victorians who work in this space.

"I am humbled,' he says. 'But I would not be here without the extraordinary efforts, generosity, knowledge and wisdom of others."

DEECA and Forest Fire Management Victoria also extend congratulations and thanks to fellow Australian Fire Service Medal recipient Nigel Brennan, who has provided continuous and distinguished service to fire operations in Victoria, including FFMVic, for more than 38 years.

Page last updated: 10/06/24