The CFA Chief – Euan Ferguson
If he had wished, during his days at the University in the late 1970s, Euan Ferguson (DipForSc 1977, BForSc(Hons) 1980) might have spent some time in a laboratory carrying the family name. It was named for his father, Arthur, who had been Reader in Electronics, and it remains a mark of the Fergusons’ abiding bond with the institution.
But Ferguson preferred another University landmark, the small botanic garden behind the Agriculture and Forestry buildings. It was tranquil and spoke to the love of the outdoors that had brought him to the place.
It also encapsulated the lifelong sense of collegiality and learning that the University imparted, he says. “I can recall sitting out there in the sunshine, having lunch and talking to people from my forestry course. I just got a real buzz being with a group of like-minded people and having stimulating conversations.”
He has been Chief Officer of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) since 2010. The qualities of equanimity and consultation he says he took from his university days held him in good stead when he took the role – and to face future risks posed by climate change.
Ferguson, who came to the job from a similar role in South Australia, says Victoria’s fire agencies have been through significant change recently and continue to work through the lessons and the recommendations of the Black Saturday Bushfires Royal Commission.
But there are new challenges: “There are real uncertainties about what I call extreme weather into the future. Clearly fire in rural Australia is going to present enormous challenges – and that requires us to continually look with a scientific mind at what’s happening around us and try to explain it.
“We’re not in control of a lot of the natural environment as a consequence of severe weather. We need a culture of shared responsibility between senior managers, bureaucrats and scientists and members of the community who have a part to play, but also may be victims if we don’t do our job properly.”
Ferguson’s love of the outdoors was sparked at Melbourne Grammar, where he was involved in the cadets and hiking club. By the time he finished he had “a passion to do forestry”. In 1975 he went to the Victorian School of Forestry at Creswick where the then Forestry Commission offered a diploma course, before doing Honours at Melbourne.
He initially worked as a field forester in East Gippsland and “was very lucky, or unlucky I suppose, that in my first three or four years as a young forester I did an awful lot of firefighting… fire for me was a constant and recurring theme and experience and I enjoyed it”.
He later became one of Victoria’s early forest fire managers, based in Geelong, and joined the CFA as an operational officer in 1992, before being recruited to South Australia’s Country Fire Service in 2001.
Ferguson, who holds an MBA from Deakin University, is still a member of the rural fire brigade at his wife’s home town of Woosang, north-west of Bendigo.
– Gary Tippet