Emergency services duo take home joint Australia day award

YOUNG AND OLD: Graham Pagden and Matthew Wharton are joint emergency service volunteers of the year. Both say it was a team effort. Picture: Andrew Messenger.
YOUNG AND OLD: Graham Pagden and Matthew Wharton are joint emergency service volunteers of the year. Both say it was a team effort. Picture: Andrew Messenger.

Emergency services volunteer of the year Graham Pagden remembers teaching co-award winner Matthew Wharton in high school.

He said it was an honour to see someone he'd taught science and agriculture follow in his footsteps.

"To have young people enter the emergency services makes me proud that I might have had some influence on their decisions," he said.

"Even within my own squad I've got two young blokes that I've taught and I've had more pass through the squad."

The Australia day committee couldn't split the two men; both are this year's emergency services volunteer of the year.

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The committee might have declared a hundred more co-winners, said Graham Pagden, who leads the local Volunteer Rescue Association. Matthew Wharton leads Reddestone RFS brigade. Both agreed the honour was a team award.

"Anyone who volunteers for emergency services needs a pat on the back, they really do," said Mr Pagden.

"You're available 24/7, your wife and family picks up the pieces when you leave.

"We've got members of our squad that have still got young kids. That's a pretty special thing to leave young kids at home and take off. Like Matthew when you take off you never know if you're going to be half an hour or 24 hours sometimes."

Matthew Wharton led one of a handful of RFS units on scene at last year's Wytaliba tragedy, as Captain of the Reddestone Rural Fire Brigade.

It's not his first firestorm - he joined the service at 12. Five years later he was NSW's youngest brigade deputy captain. At 18 he helped fight Victoria's deadly Black Saturday bushfires.

Dad Chris Wharton described his son charging into action across Wytaliba's burning bridge, a structure that was soon to collapse.

"He drove over a burning bridge, he extinguished the fire station, he defended the community house, he defended a private residence and he brought his crew back out without opening a bandaid," a proud dad said.

For many parents, that image is their worst nightmare. Not for Chris.

"If he couldn't do it nobody could. I was expecting him to be okay; I didn't think that he would stuff it up."

It was Mr Wharton's second Australia day in half a century - he has bad memories of the 1970 ceremony that opened the Land of the Beardies museum, and isn't a believer in the day in any case.

But he said he had to see his boy take home the award.

"I did get advanced warning that he'd been dobbed in for something, and he pioneered driving fire trucks over burning bridges, so I had to come to video Matthew."