Raquel Stevens

There is more to the CFA than firefighting and rescue operations.  It’s where love comes to town too.  More than 30 years ago Leanne Yanner met her husband, Robert, at the Hepburn Fire Brigade.  Now they have a brigade of their own. Their youngest son, Rikki, is 3rd Lieutenant at Daylesford Fire Brigade and Leanne is the Communications Officer.

I caught up with the mother and son duo for a cuppa before Christmas and talked frogs, family and how cat up tree rescues are alive and well.

What inspired you to join the CFA?

Leanne: I joined the Hepburn Fire Brigade in 1986. My brother was a lieutenant there and he thought, “There’s no women down here. We’ll get Leanne down.”  So off I went and there I met Rikki’s father, Robert, for the first time.

Love blossomed?

Leanne: It didn’t immediately, (laughs) because I was never really that fond of him. But after this demo we did, I thought, ‘oh yeah, you’re not too bad.’  Twelve months later we were married.

Then children came along. Are you all CFA volunteers?

Leanne: Rikki’s oldest brother, who’s now in his 40s, did join, but then he left and went to Melbourne to work. Shane, the second one, joined and he’s still a member. Dad, of course, is still a member. He’s coming up 50 years.

And then Rikki – it was our proudest moment when Rikki became a lieutenant. That was awesome.

Rikki, what’s it been like, virtually growing up at the CFA?  

Rikki: I spent my whole childhood there. I was there all the time and pretty much as soon as I turned 16, I joined.  I run my own business now, but still spend a lot of time there.

How would you describe the change in the CFA from when you first joined to the present day?

Leanne: When I first joined, there were very few women back in the 80s and the 90s, but now we’ve got three women, so that’s awesome.

What do you think women bring to it?

Leanne: A whole different load of skills, that’s the main thing. The men, they’re very good, putting out a fire, a structure fire especially, but us women, we’ll get there, we’ll have a chat to the owners and sometimes we’re the last to get on the truck.

When people are witnessing something traumatic, they are at their lowest ebb. Quite often if it’s their house, even if it’s just a room that’s burnt, it’s emotional. You can see their possessions just trashed on the floor and it’s sad.

It’s not only fires you attend, a few weeks ago you were both first on the scene at one of the most horrific accidents this town has ever seen. How are you coping?

Leanne: It’s something that you would never think of happening. It’s unheard of. The older members of the brigade said it’s the worst tragedy that they’ve been to.

Rikki: Being a long weekend, the street and the pubs were all packed and everyone was flocking with their cameras and trying to film it. It was very distressing. We were literally trying to keep everybody away so the ambulances could get in to do their job.

Leanne: There were a few that took it worse than others and we sort of watched out for them.

Rikki: Every time I drive past there, I will think about it. It will be etched in my mind forever.

There are predictions of a bad fire season. How are volunteer numbers?

Leanne: At Daylesford, we’ve got a pretty good member base, and there are new members coming along. I think a few years ago, our average age was getting over 40 to 50. Now at least we’ve got under the 40. Our youngest member is 18.

What advice do you have for someone thinking of joining?

Leanne: Come along first and see what it’s like, because it’s not what people think it is.

Rikki: What people have to remember is, we’re a wildfire, structure and a road rescue brigade, but you don’t have to attend all those incidents. You don’t have to go to car accidents. It’s your personal choice.

Leanne:  We’ve got one girl, she said right from the start she doesn’t want to go to structure fires or to MVAs. She only does wildfire and she’s with us all the summer, and that’s great.

Describe your mum as a fellow firefighter?

Rikki: We’ve been to that many fires, that many incidents, we never argue. She does have a funny habit, at fires, and it’s hilarious.

Which is?

Rikki: If mum is on the hose, it doesn’t matter who it is, whether it’s a firefighter, officer, captain, or commander, she’ll get them with a hose. She’s got everybody.

Leanne: I don’t discriminate.

That’s gold. Leanne, what about Rikki?

Leanne: If the pager went off, birthday parties, family barbecues, even dinner, if that pager went off, he’d say, “Gotta go, see ya.” At fires though, he’s very calm, even under pressure.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on a job?

Leanne: The strangest thing is that green grass will burn. It still amazes me to this day.

What about you, Rikki?

Rikki:  Oh, there is one strange thing, but I can’t mention it, it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever been to, but I can’t actually mention it, though.


Rikki: No, I can’t mention it. It was a comical thing we went to, that we assisted with, was just quite funny.  I think the guy was traumatised though.

Have you ever been called to a cat up a tree?

Rikki: Actually, just the other week in Hepburn, there was a bird stuck in a tree.

But aren’t birds meant to be in trees?

Rikki: That’s what I thought. But apparently it was a pet bird. (laughs)

So not many cats?

Leanne: I’ve been to cats, and they’ll go quite high up, and you’ve got to go up the ladder. You have to drag the cat off the tree, then put it inside your overalls, because you can’t carry it down. That’s happened more than once.

Scared cat in the overalls! That could get prickly.

Leanne: They do calm down once they’re in the dark and you cover them up.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Leanne: My superpower would be time travel. I would go back in time.

Back not forward?

Leanne: Don’t want to go forward. I want to go back to Nostradamus and see what he was really on about. I’ve got the books.

What about you, Rikki?

Rikki: I’d be invincible so I can do anything.

What’s on your bedside right now?

Leanne: Only a clock and a lamp. I used to read a lot but I don’t get time now.

Rikki:  There is currently a phone charger and a Paw Patrol book. It’s a kids show. I read it to my son in the mornings.

The $64 million question: If you won Tattslotto, what would you do?

Leanne: Share it with the children, the three boys, straight away.

Rikki:  I’d share it with friends and family if I won that much money.  I would still work a little bit.  And I would buy a decent sized property and I’d have the world’s biggest sandpit of excavators and trucks.

Leanne: Their father would be there too.

What does Daylesford need?

Leanne: Maybe things for younger people, more activities. So they don’t have to go to Ballarat or Melbourne.

Rikki:  I’ll be the one to say it, needs a Maccas and a KFC. (laughs)

Best advice anyone’s ever given you?

Leanne: My dad always said, “Have a bit of spare cash aside.” When the chips are down, your best friend’s your back pocket. And Robert still says that to the boys now.

Rikki:  Don’t compare yourself to others. I work within my means and only buy what I can afford. I was told by someone who was in business for a very long time that when work goes quiet and the tide goes out, you’ll see who’s been swimming naked.

What does Rikki never say no to?

Leanne: A roast dinner at our place.

Rikki:  Any dinner to be fair.

Rikki, what’s mum never say no to?

Rikki: She never says no to a cup of coffee.

If you were a hashtag?

Leanne:  #callmum

Rikki: #Alwaysonthego

What is the perfect Christmas gift for mum?

Rikki:   That’s easy. Anything to do with frogs! Ornaments. Toys. Sculptures. Anything that’s a frog.

Or mum loves a Scratchy. And I do too.

What’s the perfect gift for Rikki?

Leanne:  Anything from King’s.  He just loves King’s stuff. So much that he gets them delivered to our place even.

 I wish you both a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. And to all our firefighters this season, please stay safe.


Listen to Raquel’s interview with Leanne and Ricki on the Hepburn Community Radio Soundcloud. There’s more in the podcast!


Raquel Stevens is a former Network Ten News Journalist. She has been a part time local for more than 25 years, and one day hopes to be a full time local.